Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty

Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty

Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty

Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty

Excerpt

The ardent idealism that drew so many American novelists to enlist in the World War, even before their country was involved, forms a remarkable contrast to the attitude shown during the Civil War, in which none of the better-known novelists participated. Howells lived quietly in Venice the entire time; James nursed a sore back and wrote for the magazines; Mark Twain, after his brief experience in the Confederate army, deserted and went to Nevada. It is not surprising, therefore, that the struggle failed to inspire them with any great work of fiction. The surprising thing is that for seventy-two years America has had a great novel of the Civil War and ignored it. Not for want of being told, either. When Howells returned to become assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly, one of the first books he reviewed was Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty; and his praise of its fully developed realism gives one an immediate respect for his critical acumen. Five years later he wrote that De Forest's work "forms, to our mind, strong proof that we are not so much lacking in an American novelist as in a public to recognize him"; and in 1874 he declared flatly that "so far he is really the only American novelist." But even the official sanction of the Atlantic had no influence on a public rapt in St. Elmo and Bret Harte and E. P. Roe. Try as he would, Howells could not make readers appreciate De Forest, who was fifty years ahead of his time, writing a realism not generally acceptable in America until after the World War.

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