Being a Boy Again: Autobiography and the American Boy Book

Synopsis

Being a Boy Again identifies a literary genre that flourished between the Civil War and World War I--the American boy book. Jacobson distinguishes the boy book tradition from the didactic story for boys and the developmental autobiography of childhood, describing it as an autobiographical form that concentrates on boyhood alone. She discusses what gave rise to the boy book, what forms it took, what problems it addressed, and finally, why it disappeared. Jacobson finds her answers in the widespread social and economic changes of the second half of the 19th century, as well as in the personal crisis that inspired each of the boy books. She argues that key works by such writers as Thomas Bailey Aldrich, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Booth Tarkington marked a nostalgic retreat to being a boy again in the face of the difficulties of being a man in 19th-century America.