The Chronology of American Literature: America's Literary Achievements from the Colonial Era to Modern Times / Edition 1

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Overview

If you are looking to brush up on your literary knowledge, check a favorite author’s work, or see a year’s bestsellers at a glance, The Chronology of American Literature is the perfect resource. At once an authoritative reference and an ideal browser’s guide, this book outlines the indispensable information in America’s rich literary past—from major publications to lesser-known gems—while also identifying larger trends along the literary timeline.
Who wrote the first published book in America? When did Edgar Allan Poe achieve notoriety as a mystery writer? What was Hemingway’s breakout title? With more than 8,000 works by 5,000 authors, The Chronology makes it easy to find answers to these questions and more. Authors and their works are grouped within each year by category: fiction and nonfiction; poems; drama; literary criticism; and publishing events. Short, concise entries describe an author’s major works for a particular year while placing them within the larger context of that writer’s career. The result is a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of some of America’s most prominent writers. Perhaps most important, The Chronology offers an invaluable line through our literary past, tying literature to the American experience—war and peace, boom and bust, and reaction to social change. You’ll find everything here from Benjamin Franklin’s “Experiments and Observations on Electricity,” to Davy Crockett’s first memoir; from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” to Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome; from meditations by James Weldon Johnson and James Agee to poetry by Elizabeth Bishop. Also included here are seminal works by authors such as Rachel Carson, Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Lavishly illustrated—and rounded out with handy bestseller lists throughout the twentieth century, lists of literary awards and prizes, and authors’ birth and death dates—The Chronology of American Literature belongs on the shelf of every bibliophile and literary enthusiast. It is the essential link to our literary past and present.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-This hefty, reliable, and readable tome documents the development of U.S. letters from their practical, tendentious origins to the end of the 20th century. As the brief introduction explains, the editors include various representative works, not merely critically acclaimed texts. Johnny Gruelle is in with "Raggedy Ann," and so is E. B. White (but not William Steig or Russell Hoban). Robert Heinlein, Scott Turow, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, John Grisham, and Rod McKuen all appear. Essay overviews precede the year-by-year listings in each of five sections (1582-1789, 1790-1860, 1861-1914, 1915-'49, 1950-'99). They assume familiarity with basic historical facts, but provide social and political contexts. Sidebars give birth/death dates and prize and bestseller lists, again expanding the volume's scope beyond literary heights. Except for the first section, where scarcity of imaginative forms leads to inclusion of diaries, letters, and sermons, all sections include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, literary criticism, and the catch-all "publications and events" (e.g., the founding of The American Scholar and of the Folger Library). The earlier sections are a mine for browsing. With the last decade(s), however, readers might pick some fights: Why omit Charles Baxter, Larry Watson, Lan Samantha Chang, Ward Just, Jonathan Franzen, Mark Salzman, and Wally Lamb? There are sporadic black-and-white author photos and reproductions. This volume's scope, accuracy, and accessibility are hard to resist: it supercedes Richard M. Ludwig and Clifford A. Nault, Jr.'s Annals of American Literature, 1602-1983 (Oxford, 1989; o.p.).-Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618168217
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/10/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 816
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel S. Burt, Ph.D., teaches courses on the American short story and novel at Wesleyan University's Graduate Liberal Studies program. A teacher for 20 years, he is a former dean and Director of Undergraduate Studies at New York University and the Associate Dean of the College at Wesleyan University. He is author of several literary reference works including "What Historical Novel Do I Read Next?" (Gale Research, 1997), and the forthcoming "The Biography Book" (Oryx Press, 2001), "The Literary 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Novelists, Playwrights, and Poets of All Time" (Facts on File, 2001), and "The Novel 100" (Facts on File, forthcoming).

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Introduction

The chronology of American Literature is a record of America’s literary achievements from the beginning of European exploration and settlement through the end of the twentieth century. It describes more than eighty-four hundred works by some five thousand writers, in abroad survey of American writing wide enough to include authors and works that contemporaries have esteemed as well as those that later literary opinion has rescued from obscurity. Works popular in their day, which may have disappeared from modern view or been relegated to the cabinet of historical curiosities, are noted, as well as important rediscovered figures who were unread or undervalued by their contemporaries, such as Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville. Our goal is to include a wide range of works providing the fullest sense of America’s rich and complex literary history—not just the standard canon of “serious” literature but also key popular or representative minor works as well. Their inclusion helps define each era’s culture and sets the literary context from which major works emerged.
Proceeding year by year (rather than by author, era, region, or theme—the more traditional formats for examining the literary record), this book allows the entire sequence of America’s literary history to become clear. A chronology enhances the reader’s ability to evaluate American literary achievement comparatively. By examining American literature as it unfolded over time, the reader can correlate literary expression with historical and social developments that affected literature—war and peace, boom and bust, social change and reaction to change. Unlike a focus on the “great authors” (which, like the “great man” theory of history, elevates some and diminishes others, resulting in a loss of context), a wide-angle perspective offers a greater sampling of significant documents and, we hope, promotes a better grasp of the myriad forces that have helped shape the literary culture of America.
The Chronology is divided into five sections, corresponding to major stages in American literary history. Each work is briefly described to indicate what it is about and why it is included. Key birth and death dates and literary prizes are listed in sidebars, along with annual bestseller lists beginning in 1895. The result is intended as a convenient and useful single- volume guide to American literature, helpful to the student and researcher, stimulating for the general reader, and entertaining for the browser.
Section I covers the colonial and Revolutionary periods up to George Washington’s inauguration as the first president of the United States in 1789. Within each year, entries in this section are arranged by six category headings: Diaries, Journals, and Letters; Essays and Philosophy; Nonfiction; Poetry, Fiction, and Drama; Publications and Events; and Sermons and Religious Writing. The American literature of this period begins with letters home—the attempt by early explorers and settlers to make sense of a new continent and its challenge to conventional European ways of thinking. The impact of the American landscape on the European sensibility established a difficult though fruitful tension in the development of indigenous American literature. This combination of immigrant cultural influences and a landscape that fostered a sense of starting afresh—a New World defined not by the past but by future possibilities—makes America and its literature a unique hybrid. Various transplanted cultural traditions have over time contributed to this distinctive amalgam, shaped also by the environment, history, and individual genius.
Most early American literature was written by the Puritan settlers of New England, who came to America to create a new social order that centered on expressing and practicing their religious beliefs. This section of the Chronology includes many significant firsts derived from their religious practices, such as the first book published in America (The Bay Psalm Book, 1640), the first book of poetry by a colonist (Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, 1650), the first American bestseller (Michael Wigglesworth’s The Day of Doom, 1662), and the first complete Bible printed in America (John Eliot’s Indian-language translation, 1663). Among the key initial literary figures were clergymen such as John Cotton, Roger Williams, and Increase and Cotton Mather. The most noteworthy nonreligious writings in seventeenth-century America were the records of the New England colonists: William Bradford’s History of Plimmoth Plantation (completed in 1651) and John Winthrop’s Journal (published as The History of New England in 1825–1826). The writing was overwhelminglly utilitarian and religious in nature, suggesting that the initial literary response to America was determined by issues of physicccccal and spiritual survival. One intriguing question to ponder in reviewing the Puritan literary record is how such an orthodox community, a theocracy that showed little tolerance for dissent, could unite with other regions marked by differing beliefs and together evolve into a democratic nation and one of the most open societies in history.
In the literary record of eighteenth-century America, we see the gradual emergence of a secular society and a shift of emphasis from religious to political themes. Perhaps no figure more typifies this transition than Benjamin Franklin. Born in Puritan Boston, influenced by the moral writings of Cotton Mather, Franklin made his way to the Quaker city of Philadelphia. There the Quakers’ tradition of tolerance and esteem of the individual’s conscience produced the ideal intellectual climate for Franklin’s remarkable career as printer, inventor, scientist, and writer. Franklin, like others in his generation, Americanized European Enlightenment thinking, translating issues of personal liberty and equality into a philosophy and political stance that eventually justified breaking with the British crown.
The magazines and newspapers that Franklin and others created helped shape a consensus of opinion in favor of colonial unity and revolt. Two writers in particular—Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson—were decisive in the seismic shift from colony to nationhood. Paine’s Common Sense (1776) forcefully made the case for independence, and Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence synthesized Paine’s central ideas into one of the most important political documents ever created (certainly the most eloquent document that ever came out of a committee). During the Revolutionary period, writers such as Francis Hopkinson, John Trumbull, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Philip Freneau, and Mercy Otis Warren supported the patriot cause with some of the earliest examples of American nonreligious poetry and drama. The descendants of the early colonists—Europeans in America—had evolved toward a new identity as Americans, and American writing played a key role in making both the nation and its identity a reality.
Section II spans the first seventy years of the national history of the United States. Entries here and through the remainder of the Chronology are categorized under the headings Drama and Theater, Fiction, Literary Criticism and Scholarship, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Publications and Events. As America expanded beyond the eastern seaboard of the original colonies and struggled evermore intently over the question of slavery, a national literature gradually emerged. Its earliest attempts were primitive and imitative. At first American writers were still clearly dependent on English and European literary ideas and practices. The plays of the period were adaptations of European models; the poetry echoed the concerns and styles of the English neoclassical and Romantic writers, while America’s first novels reworked English picaresque, sentimental, and gothic sources. There is little in the literary record between 1790 and 1820 that stands out today as more than second rate and inferior attempts to replicate European culture in America.
Washington Irving was the first American writer to achieve an international reputation, the first to gain widespread European respect and consequently validation in America. For the first time, an American writer proved that he could be favorably compared to the best European writers. By doing so, Irving helped establish a market for American writing at home and abroad while demonstrating that important subjects and themes could be mined from America’s history and landscape. James Fenimore Cooper likewise achieved international distinction by following Irving’s lead and adapting Walter Scott’s brand of historical novel to an American setting. Cooper, particularly in his Leatherstocking Tales, helped define enduring American myths by delving into the poetic possibilities of the American wilderness, the prototypical American in the frontiersman, and the tragic fate of the American Indian. Cooper also identified a primary and persistent American theme in the tension between the individual and society, between personal freedom and the restraints of civilization. In Cooper’s vision, America was the last Eden, steadily being destroyed by progress, expansion, and settlement. This contrast between an ideal America, full of promise and transcendent possibility, and its reality—between America’s reach and its grasp—has been a persistent theme in American writing ever since.
If Irving and Cooper helped establish a market for American writing and its core subjects and themes, the catalyst for the first great fulfillment of American literary promise was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Secularizing Puritan idealism, modifying and applying European Romanticism to American imperatives, Emerson and the New England intellectuals who came to be known as the Transcendentalists lit the fuse for an explosion of creative energy that produced in the 1850s one of the greatest literary decades in U.S. history. Emerson viewed the writer as the literary equivalent of the American frontiersman and pioneer, who abandoned convention and tradition for a direct and original apprehension of a new world. Urging American writers and intellectuals to break with the past and with imitation in favor of what was uniquely American, Emerson wrote in The Poet (1842): “Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boasts, and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes, its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres.” Emerson’s prophecy was answered in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s turning the romance and prose tale into original meditations on the psychology of sin and guilt derived from America’s Puritan past; in Herman Melville’s radically experimental novel Moby-Dick, which converted a whaling adventure into a darkly existential tragedy; in Henry David Thoreau’s iconoclastic moral explorations stimulated by the American landscape and social and political scene; in Walt Whitman’s grandiloquent attempt to write the first truly American epic poem memorializing every aspect of native experience. By 1860 American writers had begun to make a unique national literary culture independent of European models. Its further development depended on interpreting the impact of the first great tragedy in American history—the Civil War.
Section III covers the Civil War and its aftermath up to the beginning of World War I, a remarkable period of accelerating technological, economic, and social change, which transformed the nation from a predominantly rural, agrarian, and isolated society into an urbanized, industrialized world power. The war that triggered that transformation is the most written-about event in American history. In many ways the first modern war and a defining test of American democracy, the Civil War continues to exert its hold on the American psyche, a watershed between contrasting eras. American writers began to record the changes wrought by the war by documenting America’s regional characteristics. For the first time substantial literary contributions were made by writers west of the established cultural centers along America’s east coast.
If the prewar American Romantic writers began to delineate the American soul and conscience, the postwar regionalists recorded the nation’s outward appearances while developing a realistic aesthetic to complement an inwardly directed literary imagination. The key figures in the development of American realism were Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Henry James, as well as writers influenced by naturalism: Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser. Together the realistic writers of the period helped direct American writing toward a truthful, non-idealized depiction of American life, using it as an instrument to expose the dislocations and inequities caused by rapid technological and social change and the evolving conceptions of American identity and destiny as it entered the twentieth century.
Section IV deals with the two world wars of the twentieth century and the dynamic period in between. America’s entry into the Great War in 1917 marked a symbolic passage from innocence to experience and another symbolic divide between eras. The war forced a radical reassessment of virtually every measure—political, social, religious, and artistic—formerly used to order and comprehend the human situation. Out of this breakdown of absolutes and crisis of belief emerged American literature’s second great explosion of creativity during the 1920s, ignited by such writers as Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Faulkner. For the first time, American writers played a significant role in the direction of world literature. In poetry, Eliot’s The Waste Land defined the modern poetic epic; in fiction Hemingway evolved a prose style and stance that was imitated worldwide. Faulkner produced the first great American modernist works, rivaling the achievements of the European modernist masters such as James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Mann; in drama America gained its greatest playwright in Eugene O’Neill, who played a significant role in reshaping modern drama.
Like the Great War, the Great Depression forced a similar radical reassessment of the role of the artist in American society and the response of writers to its social challenge. World War II added to the horrors of the Great War, with genocide taking place on an unprecedented scale and the ultimate extension of modern technology in the atomic bomb. American isolation from global issues ended, and the nation entered one of the most contradictory periods in its history.
Section V reviews the last five decades of the twentieth century, the period of America’s preeminence as a global superpower and one of the most disruptive and dynamic eras in American history, particularly during the tumultuous 1960s.Americanwriters of the period reflected on the escalating tensions with the Soviet Union, which included the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Writers also helped provoke and then record racial, gender, and sexual liberations, which shifted what was formerly on the margins of American norms to its center. Writers of color, women, homosexuals and lesbians, along with writers of diverse ethnic backgrounds, altered accepted standards of American identity and experience. The Asian American playwright David Henry Hwang, commenting on recent trends in drama, has observed that “American theater is beginning to discover Americans. Black theater, women’s theater, gay theater, Asian American theater, Hispanic theater.” His observation could be equally applied to American poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in the last half of the twentieth century. Pluralism and diversity dominated literary expression in the decades leading up to the new millennium.
If American literature began with the discovery of America, it has been sustained by its continuing discovery of Americans. If consensus is lacking about what precisely America has become and where it is headed, American perspectives on those questions have never been as wide-ranging or as challenging as they are today.

Copyright 2004 by the New England Publishing Associates and Daniel S. Burt. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

contents introduction 1 I. THE COLONIAL PERIOD 5 (1582–1789) II. NATIONALISM AND ROMANTICISM 91 (1790–1860) III. REALISM AND NATURALISM 217 (1861–1914) IV. THE BIRTH OF MODERNISM 333 (1915–1949) V. MODERNISM AND POSTMODERNISM 485 (1950–1999) index of authors 731 index of titles 744 photo credits 806

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First Chapter

Introduction

The chronology of American Literature is a record of America's literary
achievements from the beginning of European exploration and settlement
through the end of the twentieth century. It describes more than eighty-four
hundred works by some five thousand writers, in abroad survey of American
writing wide enough to include authors and works that contemporaries have
esteemed as well as those that later literary opinion has rescued from
obscurity. Works popular in their day, which may have disappeared from
modern view or been relegated to the cabinet of historical curiosities, are
noted, as well as important rediscovered figures who were unread or
undervalued by their contemporaries, such as Emily Dickinson and Herman
Melville. Our goal is to include a wide range of works providing the fullest
sense of America's rich and complex literary history—not just the standard
canon of 'serious' literature but also key popular or representative minor
works as well. Their inclusion helps define each era's culture and sets the
literary context from which major works emerged.
Proceeding year by year (rather than by author, era, region, or
theme—the more traditional formats for examining the literary record), this
book allows the entire sequence of America's literary history to become
clear. A chronology enhances the reader's ability to evaluate American
literary achievement comparatively. By examining American literature as it
unfolded over time, the reader can correlate literary expression with historical
and social developments that affected literature—war and peace, boom and
bust, social change and reaction to change. Unlike a focus on the 'great
authors' (which, like the 'great man' theory of history, elevates some and
diminishes others, resulting in a loss of context), a wide-angle perspective
offers a greater sampling of significant documents and, we hope, promotes a
better grasp of the myriad forces that have helped shape the literary culture of
America.
The Chronology is divided into five sections, corresponding to
major stages in American literary history. Each work is briefly described to
indicate what it is about and why it is included. Key birth and death dates
and literary prizes are listed in sidebars, along with annual bestseller lists
beginning in 1895. The result is intended as a convenient and useful single-
volume guide to American literature, helpful to the student and researcher,
stimulating for the general reader, and entertaining for the browser.
Section I covers the colonial and Revolutionary periods up to
George Washington's inauguration as the first president of the United States
in 1789. Within each year, entries in this section are arranged by six
category headings: Diaries, Journals, and Letters; Essays and Philosophy;
Nonfiction; Poetry, Fiction, and Drama; Publications and Events; and
Sermons and Religious Writing. The American literature of this period begins
with letters home—the attempt by early explorers and settlers to make
sense of a new continent and its challenge to conventional European ways of
thinking. The impact of the American landscape on the European sensibility
established a difficult though fruitful tension in the deve indigenous
American literature. This combination of immigrant cultural influences and a
landscape that fostered a sense of starting afresh—a New World defined not
by the past but by future possibilities—makes America and its literature a
unique hybrid. Various transplanted cultural traditions have over time
contributed to this distinctive amalgam, shaped also by the environment,
history, and individual genius.
Most early American literature was written by the Puritan settlers
of New England, who came to America to create a new social order that
centered on expressing and practicing their religious beliefs. This section of
the Chronology includes many significant firsts derived from their religious
practices, such as the first book published in America (The Bay Psalm Book,
1640), the first book of poetry by a colonist (Anne Bradstreet's The Tenth
Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, 1650), the first American bestseller
(Michael Wigglesworth's The Day of Doom, 1662), and the first complete
Bible printed in America (John Eliot's Indian-language translation, 1663).
Among the key initial literary figures were clergymen such as John Cotton,
Roger Williams, and Increase and Cotton Mather. The most noteworthy
nonreligious writings in seventeenth-century America were the records of the
New England colonists: William Bradford's History of Plimmoth Plantation
(completed in 1651) and John Winthrop's Journal (published as The History of
New England in 1825–1826). The writing was overwhelmingly utilitarian and
religious in nature, suggesting that the initial literary response to America
was determined by issues of physical and spiritual survival. One intriguing
question to ponder in reviewing the Puritan literary record is how such an
orthodox community, a theocracy that showed little tolerance for dissent,
could unite with other regions marked by differing beliefs and together evolve
into a democratic nation and one of the most open societies in history.
In the literary record of eighteenth-century America, we see the
gradual emergence of a secular society and a shift of emphasis from religious
to political themes. Perhaps no figure more typifies this transition than
Benjamin Franklin. Born in Puritan Boston, influenced by the moral writings
of Cotton Mather, Franklin made his way to the Quaker city of Philadelphia.
There the Quakers' tradition of tolerance and esteem of the individual's
conscience produced the ideal intellectual climate for Franklin's remarkable
career as printer, inventor, scientist, and writer. Franklin, like others in his
generation, Americanized European Enlightenment thinking, translating
issues of personal liberty and equality into a philosophy and political stance
that eventually justified breaking with the British crown.
The magazines and newspapers that Franklin and others created
helped shape a consensus of opinion in favor of colonial unity and revolt. Two
writers in particular —Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson—were decisive in
the seismic shift from colony to nationhood. Paine's Common Sense (1776)
forcefully made the case for independence, and Jefferson's Declaration of
Independence synthesized Paine's central ideas into one of the most
important political do ever created (certainly the most eloquent
document that ever came out of a committee). During the Revolutionary
period, writers such as Francis Hopkinson, John Trumbull, Hugh Henry
Brackenridge, Philip Freneau, and Mercy Otis Warren supported the patriot
cause with some of the earliest examples of American nonreligious poetry
and drama. The descendants of the early colonists— Europeans in America—
had evolved toward a new identity as Americans, and American writing
played a key role in making both the nation and its identity a reality.
Section II spans the first seventy years of the national history of
the United States. Entries here and through the remainder of the Chronology
are categorized under the headings Drama and Theater, Fiction, Literary
Criticism and Scholarship, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Publications and Events.
As America expanded beyond the eastern seaboard of the original colonies
and struggled evermore intently over the question of slavery, a national
literature gradually emerged. Its earliest attempts were primitive and imitative.
At first American writers were still clearly dependent on English and
European literary ideas and practices. The plays of the period were
adaptations of European models; the poetry echoed the concerns and styles
of the English neoclassical and Romantic writers, while America's first novels
reworked English picaresque, sentimental, and gothic sources. There is little
in the literary record between 1790 and 1820 that stands out today as more
than second rate and inferior attempts to replicate European culture in
America.
Washington Irving was th American writer to achieve an
international reputation, the first to gain widespread European respect and
consequently validation in America. For the first time, an American writer
proved that he could be favorably compared to the best European writers. By
doing so, Irving helped establish a market for American writing at home and
abroad while demonstrating that important subjects and themes could be
mined from America's history and landscape. James Fenimore Cooper
likewise achieved international distinction by following Irving's lead and
adapting Walter Scott's brand of historical novel to an American setting.
Cooper, particularly in his Leatherstocking Tales, helped define enduring
American myths by delving into the poetic possibilities of the American
wilderness, the prototypical American in the frontiersman, and the tragic fate
of the American Indian. Cooper also identified a primary and persistent
American theme in the tension between the individual and society, between
personal freedom and the restraints of civilization. In Cooper's vision, America
was the last Eden, steadily being destroyed by progress, expansion, and
settlement. This contrast between an ideal America, full of promise and
transcendent possibility, and its reality—between America's reach and its
grasp—has been a persistent theme in American writing ever since.
If Irving and Cooper helped establish a market for American writing
and its core subjects and themes, the catalyst for the first great fulfillment of
American literary promise was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Secularizing Puritan
idealism, modifying and applying European Romanticism to American
imperatives, Emerson and the New England intellectuals who came to be
known as the Transcendentalists lit the fuse for an explosion of creative
energy that produced in the 1850s one of the greatest literary decades in
U.S. history. Emerson viewed the writer as the literary equivalent of the
American frontiersman and pioneer, who abandoned convention and tradition
for a direct and original apprehension of a new world. Urging American writers
and intellectuals to break with the past and with imitation in favor of what was
uniquely American, Emerson wrote in The Poet (1842): 'Our logrolling, our
stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boasts,
and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest
men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon,
and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes, its ample
geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres.'
Emerson's prophecy was answered in Nathaniel Hawthorne's turning the
romance and prose tale into original meditations on the psychology of sin
and guilt derived from America's Puritan past; in Herman Melville's radically
experimental novel Moby-Dick, which converted a whaling adventure into a
darkly existential tragedy; in Henry David Thoreau's iconoclastic moral
explorations stimulated by the American landscape and social and political
scene; in Walt Whitman's grandiloquent attempt to write the first truly
American epic poem memorializing every aspect of native experience. By
1860 American writers had begun to make a unique national literary culture
independent of European models. Its further development depended on
interpreting the impact of the first great tragedy in American history—the Civil
War.
Section III covers the Civil War and its aftermath up to the
beginning of World War I, a remarkable period of accelerating technological,
economic, and social change, which transformed the nation from a
predominantly rural, agrarian, and isolated society into an urbanized,
industrialized world power. The war that triggered that transformation is the
most written-about event in American history. In many ways the first modern
war and a defining test of American democracy, the Civil War continues to
exert its hold on the American psyche, a watershed between contrasting
eras. American writers began to record the changes wrought by the war by
documenting America's regional characteristics. For the first time substantial
literary contributions were made by writers west of the established cultural
centers along America's east coast.
If the prewar American Romantic writers began to delineate the
American soul and conscience, the postwar regionalists recorded the
nation's outward appearances while developing a realistic aesthetic to
complement an inwardly directed literary imagination. The key figures in the
development of American realism were Mark Twain, William Dean Howells,
and Henry James, as well as writers influenced by naturalism: Stephen
Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser. Together the
realistic writers of the period helped direct American writing toward a truthful,
non-idealized depiction of Am life, using it as an instrument to expose
the dislocations and inequities caused by rapid technological and social
change and the evolving conceptions of American identity and destiny as it
entered the twentieth century.
Section IV deals with the two world wars of the twentieth century
and the dynamic period in between. America's entry into the Great War in
1917 marked a symbolic passage from innocence to experience and another
symbolic divide between eras. The war forced a radical reassessment of
virtually every measure—political, social, religious, and artistic—formerly
used to order and comprehend the human situation. Out of this breakdown of
absolutes and crisis of belief emerged American literature's second great
explosion of creativity during the 1920s, ignited by such writers as Willa
Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Ernest
Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Faulkner. For the first time,
American writers played a significant role in the direction of world literature. In
poetry, Eliot's The Waste Land defined the modern poetic epic; in fiction
Hemingway evolved a prose style and stance that was imitated worldwide.
Faulkner produced the first great American modernist works, rivaling the
achievements of the European modernist masters such as James Joyce,
Marcel Proust, and Thomas Mann; in drama America gained its greatest
playwright in Eugene O'Neill, who played a significant role in reshaping
modern drama.
Like the Great War, the Great Depression forced a similar radical
reassessment of the role of the artist in American society and the response
of writers to its social challenge. World War II added to the horrors of the
Great War, with genocide taking place on an unprecedented scale and the
ultimate extension of modern technology in the atomic bomb. American
isolation from global issues ended, and the nation entered one of the most
contradictory periods in its history.
Section V reviews the last five decades of the twentieth century,
the period of America's preeminence as a global superpower and one of the
most disruptive and dynamic eras in American history, particularly during the
tumultuous 1960s.Americanwriters of the period reflected on the escalating
tensions with the Soviet Union, which included the constant threat of nuclear
annihilation. Writers also helped provoke and then record racial, gender, and
sexual liberations, which shifted what was formerly on the margins of
American norms to its center. Writers of color, women, homosexuals and
lesbians, along with writers of diverse ethnic backgrounds, altered accepted
standards of American identity and experience. The Asian American
playwright David Henry Hwang, commenting on recent trends in drama, has
observed that 'American theater is beginning to discover Americans. Black
theater, women's theater, gay theater, Asian American theater, Hispanic
theater.' His observation could be equally applied to American poetry, fiction,
and nonfiction in the last half of the twentieth century. Pluralism and diversity
dominated literary expression in the decades leading up to the new
millennium.
If American literature began with the discovery of America, it has
been sustained by its con discovery of Americans. If consensus is
lacking about what precisely America has become and where it is headed,
American perspectives on those questions have never been as wide-ranging
or as challenging as they are today.

Copyright 2004 by the New England Publishing Associates and Daniel S.
Burt. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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