The Ironies of Progress: Henry Adams and the American Dream

Synopsis

In firm agreement with Henry Steele Commager's observation that "Henry Adams illuminates, better than any of his contemporaries," the course of American history, William Wasserstrom appraises the force of Adams's mind in styling, dramatizing, and embodying a postmodern myth of disintegration and chaos. Focusing on Adams and analyzing literature that reviews the myth of disintegration, Wasserstrom records the decline of the doctrine of perfectability as a critical feature of national sensibility. This he sees as a central trait shared by generations of writers who characteristically associated their private aspirations as artists with the American dream. Through literary and cultural history he inquires into the character of a society whose leading writers identify their personal fates with the progress of civilization in the United States.

Wasserstrom explores the fiction of Irving, Cooper, Hawthorne, Stowe, Howells, Henry James, William James, Stephen Crane, Henry Adams, Eugene O'Neill, D. H. Lawrence, Stein, Fitzgerald, William Carlos Williams, and Kenneth Burke.

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