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Failure and the American Writer
A Literary History

$19.95 (P)

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Part of Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture

  • Date Published: January 2014
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107662179

$ 19.95 (P)

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About the Authors
  • If America worships success, then why has the nation's literature dwelled obsessively on failure? This book explores encounters with failure by nineteenth-century writers – ranging from Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville to Mark Twain and Sarah Orne Jewett – whose celebrated works more often struck readers as profoundly messy, flawed, and even perverse. Reading textual inconsistency against the backdrop of a turbulent nineteenth century, Gavin Jones describes how the difficulties these writers faced in their faltering search for new styles, coherent characters, and satisfactory endings uncovered experiences of blunder and inadequacy hidden in the culture at large. Through Jones's treatment, these American writers emerge as the great theorists of failure who discovered ways to translate their own social insecurities into complex portrayals of a modern self, founded in moral fallibility, precarious knowledge, and negative feelings.

    • Uncovers how failure is just as important as 'success' in US national experience
    • Offers a new theory of failure as a fundamental and complex human experience
    • Provides a fresh account of the distinctive formal qualities of nineteenth-century American literature
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    • Honourable Mention, 2015 PROSE Award for Literature

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107662179
    • length: 211 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.34kg
    • contains: 15 b/w illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: Henry Adams and the catastrophic century
    1. Falling for Edgar Allan Poe
    2. Herman Melville in the doldrums
    3. The disappointments of Henry David Thoreau
    4. Stephen Crane's fake war
    5. The double failure of Mark Twain
    6. Sarah Orne Jewett falling short
    7. The faltering style of Henry James

  • Author

    Gavin Jones, Stanford University, California
    Gavin Jones is Professor of English at Stanford University, where he currently serves as department Chair. A former Junior Fellow in Harvard University's Society of Fellows, Jones is the author of Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America (1999) and American Hungers: The Problem of Poverty in US Literature, 1840–1945 (2007). He has published numerous articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature in journals such as American Literary History, African American Review and New England Quarterly.


    • Honourable Mention, 2015 PROSE Award for Literature

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