The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research

By Robin Higham; Steven E. Woodworth | Go to book overview
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45 Novels and Other Fictional Accounts

Sharon L. Gravett

In an essay published in 1961, Robert Penn Warren asserts that the "Civil War is, for the American imagination, the great single event of our history. Without too much wrenching, it may, in fact, be said to be American history" (p. 270). This war had such an imaginative impact, he says, because it was "the prototype of all war, for in the persons of fellow citizens who happen to be the enemy, we meet again, with the old ambivalence of love and hate and with all the old quilts, the blood brothers of our childhood" (pp. 300-301). A conflict between the past and the future, between Southern agrarianism and Northern industrialism, between states' rights and unionism, between principles of equality and slavery, the Civil War raised issues that continue to reverberate into the present, thus providing an exceptionally rich and varied canvas for literature. This literature challenges contemporary readers both to comprehend the war in its own time and to realize its continuing impact. Warren suggests that readers need to transport themselves "into the documented, re-created moment of the past and, in a double vision, see the problems and values of that moment and those of our own, set against each other in mutual criticism and clarification" (p. 306).

This task of examining the literature of the American Civil War is a complex one, not only because of the difficulties inherent in the works themselves, but also because of the sheer volume of literature available. Literally thousands of works of fiction have been written about the Civil War and its aftermath. Albert J. Menendez's Civil War Novels: An Annotated Bibliography ( 1986) lists 1,028 entries. Authors as diverse as Richard Adams ( Traveller, 1988), Horatio Alger ( Frank's Campaign, 1864), Louis Auchincloss ( Watchfires, 1982), James M. Cain ( Mignon, 1962, and Past All Dishonor, 1946), Willa Cather ( Sapphira andthe Slave Girl

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