Editor's Study

Editor's Study

Editor's Study

Editor's Study

Synopsis

The present edition contains a comprehensive index with cross-references and a thorough introduction revealing the details concerning the column, the corresponding period in Howells' life, and the literary milieu of these critical years in American literature. "The Editor's Study" collection offers a unique reference work to scholars interested in this important period of transition in American literature, as well as to those interested in Howells as one of America's first exponents of comparative literature.

Excerpt

The American authors that rose to eminence in the 1840's and 1850's fulfilled the role of the artist and commented upon their social environment without benefit of the moral and physical alienation that later artists found necessary. Nathaniel Hawthorne spent practically his whole creative life ensconced in the proto-establishment towns of Salem and Concord, Massachusetts. Lowell, Emerson, Whittier, and the other Brahmins clustered around Boston's literary hub and reflected and established the social and moral judgment of the nation. Few questioned the propriety of the artist's retaining his social position.

Part of the reason that it was possible for these and other important and undoubted artists to operate from within, indeed at the very center of, the society of which they were the arbiters of conscience lies in the then still unshaken optimism of the nineteenth century mind. The brunt of the thrust to settle the frontier areas was still in the future, and the challenge to society's institutions that resulted from people seeking and believing in better opportunities elsewhere had not arisen. The robber barons, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and the others, who were to fleece the country's people as well as its institutions during the Gilded Age, had just been born, so the limits of the efficacy of gluttony and greed in amassing personal gain had not been tested. The great labor movements of the 1870's and 1880's that assaulted the collective national conscience with revelations of the conditions endured by the laboring classes, and resulted in the spilling of the blood of working men, strikebreakers, Pinkerton detectives, and innocent bystanders alike, were still in the future. But perhaps most important of all, the world of Hawthorne, Emerson, and their contemporaries then had not undergone the immense national trauma of the Civil War. The illusion that the forces of established society were in the end righteous and worthy of trust and capable of meeting any divisive challenge had not been destroyed by the spectacle of one half . . .

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