Traces of Gold: California's Natural Resources and the Claim to Realism in Western American Literature

Traces of Gold: California's Natural Resources and the Claim to Realism in Western American Literature

Traces of Gold: California's Natural Resources and the Claim to Realism in Western American Literature

Traces of Gold: California's Natural Resources and the Claim to Realism in Western American Literature

Excerpt

When W. D. Howells assumed the editorship of the staunchly New England-oriented Atlantic Monthly in 1871, one of his self-appointed goals was to “westernize” the magazine by increasing its attention to and publication of a rapidly growing crop of western American literary artists. By the turn of the century he had become an influential advocate of western American literature, in large part because he believed that the realism he so vigorously championed would have its genesis in the work of such nominally western authors as Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Hamlin Garland, Edward Eggleston, Stephen Crane, and Frank Norris, not to mention himself. Writing about his friend Twain in 1901, for instance, Howells asserted:

The West, when it began to put itself into literature, could do so
without the sense, or the apparent sense, of any older or politer
world outside of it; whereas the East was always looking fearfully
over its shoulder at Europe, and anxious to account for itself as well
as represent itself.… [I]t is not claiming too much for the Western
influence upon American literature to say that the final liberation
of the East from this anxiety is due to the West, and to its ignorant
courage or its indifference to its difference from the rest of the
world. (“Mark Twain, an Inquiry” 44)

Similarly, in his 1899 review of Norris's McTeague, Howells offered, “It ought not to be strange that the impulse in this direction [toward realism] should have come from California, where, as I am always affirming rather than proving, a continental American fiction began” (“A Case in . . .

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