Fiction Fights the Civil War: An Unfinished Chapter in the Literary History of the American People

Fiction Fights the Civil War: An Unfinished Chapter in the Literary History of the American People

Fiction Fights the Civil War: An Unfinished Chapter in the Literary History of the American People

Fiction Fights the Civil War: An Unfinished Chapter in the Literary History of the American People

Excerpt

EXAMINATION of five-hundred-odd novels about the Civil War is not an altogether serious task, nor, for that matter, a very safe one. Adventures in unclaimed territory between the historical and literary disciplines have left me in uncomfortable isolation, unsupported by my fellows, and untrained in the techniques of my new neighbors. Historians, my customary associates, have been suspicious of the work's legitimacy; and literary folk, amused at study of novels by the gross, have often been openly derisive. I cannot say that several years' labor with Civil War novels has been an unmitigated pleasure, but I must confess a still unsatiated delight with historical novels, however bad, which first led me to the study of history.

Five hundred and twelve novels have been examined in the course of this survey--the verb cannot quite be "read," for my attention to juveniles, and to many a stereotyped tale, has frequently been more hurried than thoughtful. The work has had to proceed without much help from the critics and historians to whom one looks for aid in matters of method and interpretation. Among the several observers who have undertaken general comment on the Civil War tradition in American literature, only one has presented a useful and thoughtful analysis --and his conclusions proceed from a list of books so limited that it cannot be counted representative of the whole war lit-

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