Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism

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Overview

From Abraham Lincoln's wry observation that Harriet Beecher Stowe was "the little lady who made this big war" to Mark Twain's "wild proposition" that Walter Scott had somehow touched off sectional hostilities, there have been many competing theories about the impact of literature on nineteenth-century American society. In this provocative book, Kenneth W. Warren argues that the rise of literary realism late in the century was shaped by and in turn helped to shape the politics of racial difference following Reconstruction. Taking up a variety of novelists from this period, including most prominently Henry James and William Dean Howells, Warren demonstrates that even works not directly concerned with race were instrumental in forging a Jim Crow nation. As a literary history, Black and White Strangers places the writing of realistic novels within the context of their serialization in the monthly magazines of the 1880s. By viewing these novels in light of editorial policies regarding social propriety, national unity, and literary aesthetics, Warren reveals the often surprising ways in which realistic fiction at once challenged and abetted the growing conservatism of racial politics. Warren also seeks to bridge the gap between American and African-American literary studies, which have hitherto been "strangers" to each other. James and Howells, he argues, can be understood fully only when read alongside W. E. B. Du Bois and Frances E. W. Harper; James's The American Scene, for instance must be seen as a companion text to Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk. In making these connections, Warren challenges American and African-American studies to see themselves as mutually constitutive enterprises and to question the value of canon-based criticism in any complete investigation of the meaning of "race" in American cultural history.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
The strangers are not only black and white people, says Warren (English, U. of Chicago) but also American and Afro-American literature. He argues that the rise of literary realism in the late 19th century both shaped and was shaped by the growing politics of racial difference after Reconstruction. He examines novels by Henry James and William Dean Howells, but says they cannot be understood except in conjunction with those by W. E. B. DuBois and Frances E. W. Harper. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226873855
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1995
  • Series: Black Literature and Culture Series Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 178
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Reading Henry James 18
2 Aesthetics, Race, and "Warrants of Decency" 48
3 The Persistence of Uncle Tom and the Problem of Critical Distinction 71
4 Black and White Strangers 109
Conclusion 131
Notes 145
Index 163
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