Facing Facts; Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850-1920

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Overview

In Facing Facts, David Shi provides the most comprehensive history to date of the rise of realism in American culture. He vividly captures the character and sweep of this all-encompassing movement - ranging from Winslow Homer to the rise of the Ash Can school, from Whitman to Henry James to Theodore Dreiser. He begins with a look at the antebellum years, when idealistic themes were considered the only fit subject for art (Hawthorne wrote that "the grosser life is a dream, and the spiritual life is a reality"). Whitman's assault on these otherworldly standards coincided with sweeping changes in American society: the bloody Civil War, the aggressive advance of a modern scientific spirit, the emergence of photography and penny newspapers, the expansion of cities, capitalism, and the middle class - all worked to shake the foundations of genteel idealism and sentimental romanticism. The public developed an ever-expanding appetite for concrete facts and for art that accurately depicted them. As Shi proceeds through the nineteenth century, he traces the realist impulse in each major area of arts and letters, combining an astute analysis of the movement's essential themes with incisive portraits of its leading practitioners. Here we see Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., shaken to stern realism by the horrors of the Civil War; the influence of Walt Whitman on painter Thomas Eakins and architect Louis Sullivan, a leader of the Chicago school; the local-color verisimilitude of Louisa May Alcott and Sarah Orne Jewett; and the impact of urban squalor on intrepid young writers such as Stephen Crane. In the process of surveying nineteenth-century cultural history, Shi provides fascinating insights into thespecific concerns of the realist movement - in particular, the nation's growing obsession with gender roles. Realism, he observes, was in part an effort to revive masculine virtues in the face of effeminate sentimentality and decorous gentility. By the end of the ninetee
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195106534
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

David Shi is President of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture and America: A Narrative History.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
Pt. I Setting the Stage
1 Antebellum Idealism 15
2 New Paths 26
Pt. II The Generative Forces
3 Touched with Fire 45
4 A Mania for Facts 66
5 Goods and Surfaces 79
Pt. III Realism Triumphant
6 Truth in Fiction 103
7 Realism on Canvas 126
8 Form Follows Function 154
Pt. IV Extraordinary Realities
9 Realism and the Social Question 181
10 Savage Realism 212
11 A World Full of Fists 223
12 Ash Can Realism 251
Pt. V An Epoch of Confusion
13 The Modernist Revolt 275
Epilogue 303
Notes 309
Index 377
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