Reading the American Novel 1865-1914

Reading the American Novel 1865-1914

Reading the American Novel 1865-1914

Reading the American Novel 1865-1914


An indispensable tool for teachers and students of American literature, Reading the American Novel 1865-1914 provides a comprehensive introduction to the American novel in the post-civil war period.
  • Locates American novels and stories within a specific historical and literary context
  • Offers fresh analyses of key selected literary works
  • Addresses a wide audience of academics and non-academics in clear, accessible prose
  • Demonstrates the changing mentality of 19th-century America entering the 20th century
  • Explores the relationship between the intellectual and artistic output of the time and the turbulent socio-political context


Perhaps these pages are more particularly addressed to… students. As for the
rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

Many American students seem to think that American literature exists in some sort of void, as if American writers knew only American history and read only other American writers. But American writers did not write in a parochial vacuum. They were nurtured by England, the mother country, and by Continental brothers, sisters, and cousins. To understand specific texts of American fiction more than superficially, it is necessary to see them in a broader, primarily European, context of social and literary history. It is also necessary to see them in historical contexts that often blur the boundaries of particular time periods.

America was from the first a mix of different cultures; but British literary culture was always the preeminent model and influence, even when Americans were in the process of trying to reject it. Other European influences ebbed and flowed for over two centuries. In the later eighteenth century, the major foreign influence in literature was French neoclassicism; in the earlier nineteenth century, the major influence was German romanticism; in the later nineteenth century, it was the French again, accompanied by the Russians and Scandinavians, who like the French provided models for realism and naturalism. In the early twentieth century, the new modernism was an international mixture of European literatures, owing much to French impressionist painting and literature and emerging German expressionist fiction and theater.

Other elements of an “American” literature developed closer to home. Native American songs and creation myths in the oral tradition from the seventeenth century forward are still being recovered. African American literature begins in . . .

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