Creating the Modern American Novel

Creating the Modern American Novel

Creating the Modern American Novel

Creating the Modern American Novel

Excerpt

Those people among us whose patriotic fervor is more vigorous than their critical principles have pushed the beginnings of American literature back as far as the epistles of Captain John Smith. The more cosmopolitan have been content with Washington Irving as our first man of letters. The cold and inescapable fact of the matter is that none but historians and antiquarians can be excited by any figure before Ralph Waldo Emerson in any genre . And with respect to the novel, which has become increasingly the preferred medium of expression, one can hardly go beyond the memory of men now living.

Very little American fiction of the last century has any life left in it. Hawthorne THE SCARLET LETTER (1850), despite its spare psychological dimensions and a point of view toward a familiar material seldom shared by modern people, still lives because of the perfection of its superb and living art. Melville MOBY-DICK (185I) must be placed in the present century where in spirit it really belongs and where it was first discovered. After we have mentioned these two memorable novels, after we have acknowledged a mild interest in the pale contemporaneity of the earlier novels of Henry James and William Dean Howells, and after we have declared with the authority of personal experience shared by everyone else that HUCKLE- BERRY FINN (1884) is a classic, we are confronted by the interesting fact that American fiction of scope and distinction began with the close of the last century. In later years, Stephen Crane has come to occupy the same position in relation to the Amer-

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