This encyclopedia is for students of fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction, and song lyrics who wish to learn more about the most influential and significant twentieth-century writers of Canada and the United States. Some of the writers covered here were born in the nineteenth century, but all of them did their most important writing and publishing in the twentieth century.
Turn-of-the-century authors, such as Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Frank Norris, and Upton Sinclair, represent the spirit and vigor of the new age that dawned in both society and literature around the turn of the century. They all published in the twentieth century. They broke from the nineteenth century's genteel tradition in literature, forging ahead into a new realism and beyond it to the literary naturalism that characterizes the most important writing of the first half of the twentieth century.
Works by the authors included in these volumes frequently appear in school and college anthologies or have had a profound influence upon some of the most notable authors of the twentieth century. Among the authors in this encyclopedia who influenced later authors, Gertrude Stein looms large. Her impact upon language and writing style directly affected the writing of many authors of the so-called “lost generation” who gathered in Paris after World War I, among them Ernest Hemingway and E Scott Fitzgerald.
T S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Langston Hughes had a comparable impact upon poets who followed them, notably Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, Nikki Giovanni, and Maya Angelou. Eugene O'Neill, the playwright who singlehandedly spawned serious American drama after 1920, later touched directly the writing of such dramatists as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Lorraine Hansberry.
The Early Twentieth Century. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, North American society was changing rapidly, moving from agrarian, farm-based economies to industrial economies that drew millions of people to crowded cities that were often illequipped to meet the newcomers' needs for housing and services. Europeans, knowing that burgeoning industries needed workers, rushed to the United States and Canada seeking work.
American literature reflected much of this social and economic upheaval. For example, Frank Norris chronicled the death grip in which all-powerful American railroads and commercial cartels held farmers and workers. Upton Sinclair focused on the plight of uneducated immigrant workers, writing with such realism about conditions in the U.S. meatpacking industry that reading The Jungle (1906) caused many Americans to retch. This novel led to the passage of the federal Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 shortly after U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt read the book.
Theodore Dreiser shocked readers by choosing as the protagonist of his novel Sister Carrie (1900) a woman of easy virtue who, rather than receiving retribution for her moral laxity, achieved success and lived a life of luxury The genteel tradition that had characterized the preceding generation of writers communicated little that people in rapidly expanding urban settings valued.
A new morality was creeping into the writing of a fresh generation of writers. These authors adopted a heightened realism that culminated inevitably in literary naturalism, which views human behavior in terms of economic, genetic, and social determinism. The evolutionary theories of English naturalist Charles Darwin and the psychological writings of Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and . . .