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A New World of Words: Redefining Early American Literature

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Early American literature has traditionally been defined as writings in English by residents of the land that later became the United States. Thanks to this definition, it has only a modest reputation: "early" has come to mean "less" - less American and less literary than American literature proper. In this book, William C. Spengemann redefines early American literature, calling it writings in English that reflect or have been influenced by the discovery, exploration, and settlement of the New World. Spengemann ...
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Overview

Early American literature has traditionally been defined as writings in English by residents of the land that later became the United States. Thanks to this definition, it has only a modest reputation: "early" has come to mean "less" - less American and less literary than American literature proper. In this book, William C. Spengemann redefines early American literature, calling it writings in English that reflect or have been influenced by the discovery, exploration, and settlement of the New World. Spengemann argues that linguistic criteria should have precedence over national origin in determining the national literature to which a given work rightfully belongs, and from this perspective he examines a variety of works in new and provocative ways. He analyzes Milton's Paradise Lost as an American poem that reflects the impact of the discovery and settlement of America on seventeenth-century religious culture; traces the semantic development of the English word Columbus from its first written appearance in 1553 to its identification with the United States after 1780; and compares in detail Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, viewing them as comparable - and American - writings, all concerned with comprehending the displacement of the remembered Old World by an altogether new one.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300057942
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/23/1994
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 5.71 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
1 Early American Literature as a Period of Literary History 1
2 John Smith's True Relation and the Idea of American Literature 51
3 Paradise Lost: Milton's American Poem 94
4 Columbus: The Early American History of an English Word 118
5 Franklin in His Element: The End of Early American Literature 178
Afterword 208
Bibliographical Note 211
Works Cited 215
Index 245
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