This volume is the first to offer representative selections of American literary criticism from its beginnings up to and including contemporary criticism. It is designed as a text in literary criticism courses and as a supplementary volume in the study of American literature.
The selection of the individual essays has been guided primarily by the extent to which each essay is (1) representative of the critical theory and method of its author; (2) an elucidation of the critical background of the period in which it was written; and (3) a significant contribution to an understanding of the growth of American literary theory and of American literature. The essays are presented in a historical framework--in terms of the various periods and literary movements that have characterized the growth of American writing. Some of this material is here available in book form for the first time; much has previously appeared only in books or periodicals that are now scarce and long out of print.
An attempt has been made to balance the types of critical essays represented: evaluations of the work of major American poets and prose writers; statements of literary theory by American poets and writers of fiction; expositions of critical standards and methods by important literary critics; and studies of the relation between the writer and his age, his society, and his traditions.
In the selection of essays, emphasis has been placed upon American criticism from the beginnings to the close of the nineteenth century because it is this period which has never adequately been covered by an anthology and because the critical essays of this period are less accessible to the student than are those of the present century. A number of selections have been included, however, to illustrate the development and main trends of modern criticism.
The introductions aim to show the conditions under which literary criticism developed in America, the problems with which it was concerned, and the development of its methods and standards, from the earliest critical writings of the Puritans to the present time. Critical and literary theory has been presented only in its general outlines, but sufficient analysis of each writer and of the background of each period is provided so that the student may be able to read the essays with an understanding of the author's general critical theory and the relationship of the essay to the period in which it was written. For those who are interested in a more extensive study of the development of American criticism, the critical introductions have been documented and the critical essays have been annotated.
The essays in this volume have been selected not to illustrate any particular thesis or taste of the editor but to offer as impersonal a survey of . . .