Columbia Literary History of the United States

Columbia Literary History of the United States

Columbia Literary History of the United States

Columbia Literary History of the United States

Synopsis

For the first time in four decades, there exists an authoritative and up-to-date survey of the literature of the United States, from prehistoric cave narratives to the radical movements of the sixties and the experimentation of the eighties. This comprehensive volume -- one of the century's most important books in American studies -- extensively treats Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Hemingway, and other long-cherished writers, while also giving considerable attention to recently discovered writers such as Kate Chopin and to literary movements and forms of writing not studied amply in the past. Informed by the most current critical and theoretical ideas, it sets forth a generation's interpretation of the rise of American civilization and culture. The Columbia Literary History of the United States contains essays by today's foremost scholars and critics, overseen by a board of distinguished editors headed by Emory Elliott of Princeton University. These contributors reexamine in contemporary terms traditional subjects such as the importance of Puritanism, Romanticism, and frontier humor in American life and writing, but they also fully explore themes and materials that have only begun to receive deserved attention in the last two decades. Among these are the role of women as writers, readers, and literary subjects and the impact of writers from minority groups, both inside and outside the literary establishment.

Excerpt

In the Preface to the last collaborative effort of this kind, the Literary History of the United States (1948), Robert E. Spiller and his co-editors declared that "each generation should produce at least one literary history of the United States, for each generation must define the past in its own terms." Earlier, just after World War I, the editors of the Cambridge History of American Literature had made much the same point. In fact, however, the 1948 literary history has stood for nearly forty years, leading its editors to observe in the 1974 edition that their work had belied their "original pronouncement that 'each generation must define the past in its own terms.' "

Among the many questions that readers will ask upon opening this new volume is why the prophecy of 1948 failed and why the present work appears now. Adequate answers to these questions require an understanding of the social, political, and intellectual history of the last four decades, as well as a grasp of the new critical approaches to our national literature that have emerged in that time. Events such as the Cold War, the war in Vietnam and the protests against it, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and the struggles of various minority groups to achieve equity in American society have reformed the way many Americans view their nation and thereby their national literature and culture. The very pressures, conflicts, and cultural reevaluations in American political and intellectual life that created an atmosphere unconducive to a "redefinition of our literary past" during the 1960s and 1970s have, in part, generated exciting new critical perspectives and literary expressions that are represented in this book.

This work does not, however, constitute a new consensus about the history of the literature of the United States. For many reasons, some discussed in our General Introduction, concurrence remains impossible at this time. There is today no unifying vision of a national identity like that shared . . .

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