A Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature

A Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature

A Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature

A Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature

Excerpt

When Charles Wells Moulton completed in 1905 the last of the eight volumes of his Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors, English literature was undeniably more important than its American counterpart. Quite sensibly he decided to devote most of his useful compendium to commentaries on English authors.

America had already had some important writers: Cooper, Whitman, Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau, but our great stylists were few in comparison with those of England and even the names of those few were not widely known. It has happened, fortunately, that this is no longer the case. During the past half century American literature has grown greatly in quantity and in importance. Henry James and Mark Twain have become major figures since Moulton edited his serviceable volumes. We have had generations of writers from "Bitter Bierce" and Jack London to the Beatniks on the West Coast, from Dreiser to James Jones and Saul Bellow in the Middle West, from Cabell to Faulkner and Penn Warren in the South, and from the comfortable gentility of Edith Wharton to the uncomfortable acerbity of James Gould Cozzens in the East. It is time indeed that "American Authors" be brought up to date.

Following Moulton's idea (but not in all details his method), the editor has systematically reviewed the critical accompaniment to the major literary preformances of the past half century and more, going through the literature of criticism as it appeared in the popular and scholarly journals and in books, and choosing excerpts which reflected the sweep and variety of the literary taste, critical standards, and attitudes of the period. The over-all result is, it is hoped, a fairly definitive critical key to twentieth-century American writing through the 1950's.

One hundred and seventy American authors who wrote or became prominent after 1904 are included in this survey of significant criticism. Most of the authors in this volume may be found in Stanley Kunitz's Twentieth-Century Authors and its First Supplement, which should be consulted for biographical information.

A Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature is intended primarily as a reference tool for school, library, or home, for the use of scholars and students as well as browsers. Each citation is accom-

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