The Twentieth-Century American Fiction Handbook

The Twentieth-Century American Fiction Handbook

The Twentieth-Century American Fiction Handbook

The Twentieth-Century American Fiction Handbook

Synopsis

This student-friendly handbook provides an engaging overview of American fiction over the twentieth century, with entries on the important historical contexts and central issues, as well as the major texts and writers.
  • Provides extensive coverage of short stories and short story writers as well as novels and novelists
  • Discusses the cultural contexts and issues that shape the texts and their reputations
  • Wide-ranging in scope, including science fiction and recent Native American writing
  • Featured writers range from Henry James and Theodore Dresier to Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, and Sherman Alexie
  • Ideal student accompaniment to courses in Twentieth-Century American Literature or Fiction

Excerpt

The block of five essays in this book that precede those treating individual writers and texts is broadly chronological in its arrangement. While the calendar provides neat boundaries to decades and centuries, history, of course, including the history of a century’s literature, is never so tidy. Many of the prevailing ideas of the nineteenth century spill over into the twentieth in the history of American fiction, just as a few of the earlier century’s major writers lived on into the new century. Both the writers and the prevailing ideas can be seen influencing the early history of the American Institute of Arts and Letters. The Institute was created in 1898, originally limited to 150 members (250 after 1907). In 1904 the members of the Institute elected the first seven members of an eventual fifty to the more elite American Academy of Arts and Letters (this two-tier system was eventually dropped in 1993). Of the four who represented literature in the 1904 election, John Hay was best known for his political and diplomatic career and for his biography of Lincoln, whom he had served as private secretary. Edmund Clarence Stedman was a respected poet and anthologist. The other two members elected are central to any history of American literature: William Dean Howells and Mark Twain. When the Academy expanded its membership the following year Henry James and Henry Adams were elected.

Howells, Twain, James, and Adams are major figures, yet arguably all but Adams had his best work behind him by 1905, and at least three of them, including Adams, had misgivings about what the new century would bring. Twain’s work had become darker in his last years, and when he died in 1910 he left an unfinished novel, The Mysterious Stranger, which, while it is a celebration of imagination and the power of print, is deeply nostalgic about a lost innocence somewhat ambivalently associated with the antebellum South . . .

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