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The American Epic
Transforming a Genre, 1770–1860


Part of Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture

  • Date Published: April 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521107020

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About the Authors
  • John McWilliams's 1990 book was the first thorough account of the many attempts to fashion an epic literature (the anxiously anticipated 'American Epic') from a wide range of potentially heroic New World subjects. At the outset, McWilliams considers the many problems - cultural, political and literary' - of adapting Enlightenment views of republican progress to a genre that had traditionally celebrated the greatness of warriors. After a survey of the many epic poems written during and after the American Revolution, McWilliams shows how and why the epic had to be transformed from imitative narrative poetry into the new, open genres of prose history (Irving, Prescott and Parkman), fictional romance (Cooper and Melville) and free verse (Whitman). Believing that reviews are an important and slighted agent of literary change, McWilliams has written his book in the form of chronological literary history. His book, however, is no march of dates within tired categories. The American Epic suggests that imaginative writers of the Romantic era were in fact far less proscriptive about the boundaries of literary genre than many a twentieth-century writer and scholar.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521107020
    • length: 296 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.44kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Imitations: Homer's Tyrannous Eye:
    1. Invocations
    2. Freedom's heroes
    3. Freedom's fools
    4. A white achilles for the West?
    Part II. Transformations: The Epic in New Genres:
    5. Red Achilles, red Satan
    6. The destroying angel
    7. Till a better epic comes along
    8. 'An epic of democracy?'

  • Author

    John P. McWilliams, Jr

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