The Foreground of American Fiction

The Foreground of American Fiction

The Foreground of American Fiction

The Foreground of American Fiction

Excerpt

It is a truism that the traditions of the past can be fruitfully grafted on the present only when one understands what the present represents. But how is one to gain an understanding of the multifarious aspects of American life today and the currents of thought which underlie our activity? In one of Mark Twain's serious essays he concludes that such an understanding comes only after "years and years of unconscious absorption; years and years of intercourse with the life concerned; of living it, indeed; sharing personally in its shames and prides, its joys and griefs, its loves and hates, its proprieties and reverses, its shows and shabbinesses, its deep patriotisms, its whirlwinds of political passions, its adorations -- of flag, and heroic dead, and the glory of the national name. Observation? Of what real value is it? One learns peoples through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect. There is only one expert who is qualified to examine the souls and the life of a people and make a valuable report -- the native novelist." And there is no better index to the American mind during the last forty years than the American novel.

As a means, then, of securing a cross-section of our national mind during this period, Mr. Hartwick, formerly a member of the staff of The School of Letters at the State University of Iowa, has provided us with this rationale of recent fiction. During the last forty years, what forces and fashions, literary creeds, technical experiments, folkways, scientific discoveries, and social trends have been reflected in the American novel? What light does such a . . .

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