Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature

Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature

by David Wyatt
     
 

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Secret Histories claims that the history of the nation is hidden-in plain sight-within the pages of twentieth-century American literature. David Wyatt argues that the nation's fiction and nonfiction expose a "secret history" that cuts beneath the "straight histories" of our official accounts. And it does so by revealing personal stories of love, work, family, war,

Overview

Secret Histories claims that the history of the nation is hidden-in plain sight-within the pages of twentieth-century American literature. David Wyatt argues that the nation's fiction and nonfiction expose a "secret history" that cuts beneath the "straight histories" of our official accounts. And it does so by revealing personal stories of love, work, family, war, and interracial romance as they were lived out across the decades of the twentieth century.

Wyatt reads authors both familiar and neglected, examining "double consciousness" in the post-Civil War era through works by Charles W. Chesnutt, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington. He reveals aspects of the Depression in the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anzia Yezierska, and John Steinbeck. Period by period, Wyatt's nuanced readings recover the felt sense of life as it was lived, opening surprising dimensions of the critical issues of a given time. The rise of the women's movement, for example, is revivified in new appraisals of works by Eudora Welty, Ann Petry, and Mary McCarthy.

Running through the examination of individual works and times is Wyatt's argument about reading itself. Reading is not a passive activity but an empathetic act of co-creation, what Faulkner calls "overpassing to love." Empathetic reading recognizes and relives the emotional, cultural, and political dimensions of an individual and collective past. And discovering a usable American past, as Wyatt shows, enables us to confront the urgencies of our present moment.

Editorial Reviews

American Literature - Timothy Parrish
The secret history his book truly tells is one of the remarkable readers's engagement with the diversity of American literature. Wyatt testifies to the power that strong novels have to transform the reader's sense of the world and his or her place in it... The works of fifty-six American novelists with different historical and aesthetic perspectives, novelists who are men and women, novelists who are brown, black, and white, come alive and speak to the ongoing richness and variety of American literature in the twentieth century. It is a remarkable achievement, especially given the current critical context of American literary studies.

Choice
A useful introduction to a broad canon of 20th-century authors, this book touches on important issues in literary-historical scholarship and uses clear, conversational language deliberately devoid of jargon; a distinctive feature of the discussion is Wyatt's pointed use of a first-person personal voice that blends his autobiographical insights with his critical readings... Highly recommended.

Western American Literature
His latest book shows that Wyatt's skill as an engaging literary historian is certainly no secret.

— Erik Larson

The Hopkins Review
A sweeping critical work that is compelling, always interesting, and often moving.

— Mitchell Breitwieser

Reviews in American History
I felt fortunate to come across David Wyatt's Secret Histories because Wyatt so clearly delights in American fiction.

— Kimberly Engber

American Literature
The secret history his book truly tells is one of the remarkable readers's engagement with the diversity of American literature. Wyatt testifies to the power that strong novels have to transform the reader's sense of the world and his or her place in it... The works of fifty-six American novelists with different historical and aesthetic perspectives, novelists who are men and women, novelists who are brown, black, and white, come alive and speak to the ongoing richness and variety of American literature in the twentieth century. It is a remarkable achievement, especially given the current critical context of American literary studies.

— Timothy Parrish

Western American Literature - Erik Larson
His latest book shows that Wyatt's skill as an engaging literary historian is certainly no secret.

The Hopkins Review - Mitchell Breitwieser
A sweeping critical work that is compelling, always interesting, and often moving.

Reviews in American History - Kimberly Engber
I felt fortunate to come across David Wyatt's Secret Histories because Wyatt so clearly delights in American fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801897122
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
10/01/2010
Pages:
424
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Bryan Waterman
This book offers a scholarly career's worth of genuine insight and illumination.

Meet the Author

David Wyatt is a professor of English at the University of Maryland.

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