Criticism of Fiction: A Study of Trends in the Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1898

Criticism of Fiction: A Study of Trends in the Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1898

Criticism of Fiction: A Study of Trends in the Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1898

Criticism of Fiction: A Study of Trends in the Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1898

Excerpt

Among the many methods of approaching the complex history of fiction, a valid one, it would seem, is the analysis of the fictional standards of a major periodical. The Atlantic Monthly is such a periodical. For, as Frank Luther Mott has suggested, ". . . the student of American magazines since 1857, whatever his predilections, is forced to agree that throughout much of its career it has maintained a higher literary standard than its contemporaries." Since a number of its critics during the second half of the nineteenth century were novelists themselves and were thus doubly interested in fictional theory and practice, its criticism of fiction deserves special attention.

Likewise, the period from 1857 until the close of the century is a profitable one for discussion, for during these years the novel was becoming increasingly aware of itself. In fact, the year 1857 marks not only the founding of the Atlantic; it might be said to mark as well the beginning of modern fiction, for it was in 1857 that Madame Bovary was published. Atlantic critics were well aware of the new fictional developments of the period. And they were aware, too, of the need for a criticism which, in the words of George Parsons Lathrop, would keep "pace with the novel in its more recent manifestations," which would be something more than an expression of the "chance critic's chance taste." Thus Lathrop asks for a criticism that will "penetrate the significance of the novel" and "detemine some of the principles by which its further progress should be guided. . . ."

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