Towards a Popular Culture: Andrew Lang's Anthropological and Literary Criticism

By Michalski, Robert | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Towards a Popular Culture: Andrew Lang's Anthropological and Literary Criticism


Michalski, Robert, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


In the introduction to his immensely influential The American Novel and Its Tradition, Richard Chase contrasts the "freer, more daring, more brilliant fiction" of the American "romance-novel" with "the solid moral inclusiveness and massive equability of the English novel" (viii). Unlike the English novel, contends Chase, the American novel at its best is characteristically marked by such elements of romance as "the picturesque and the heroic, an assumed freedom from the ordinary novelistic requirements of verisimilitude, development, and continuity"; "a tendency to plunge into the underside of consciousness," and "a willingness to abandon moral questions or to ignore the spectacle of man in society" (ix). Whether or not the English and American novelist traditions can be usefully played off against each in these starkly polar terms, it is doubtless the case that American critics since World War II have been far more attracted by this simple schema, and disposed to celebrate the virtues of the romance-novel, than have their British counterparts. Yet this has not always been so, as is demonstrated by one of the most important literary debates in Britain during the late 19th century. In this debate, Chase's alignment of the American novel with the romance and the British novel with realism was reversed. Largely prompted by critical interventions of the Americans William Dean Howells and Henry James on behalf of realism in the constitution of the "art of fiction," British (or, more specifically, Scottish) partisans of the adventure romance like Robert Louis Stevenson and Andrew Lang championed the popular swashbuckling tales of Stevenson and Rider Haggard against what Lang perceived as the pretentious ends and degrading means of the realistic and naturalistic novel.

In this debate, realism in fiction clearly stood as the marker of High Culture in novelistic practice while the romance was equated with popular tastes. Lang's preference for Stevenson and Haggard "against all that was most vital in the fiction, English, European, and American of the later nineteenth century" (Maurer 170) has led contemporary commentators on Lang to agree with James's assessment of Lang as a critic who "writes the intellect of our race too low" and who "uses his beautiful thin facility to write everything down to the lowest level of Philistine twaddle--the view of the old lady round the corner or the clever person at the dinner party" (Green 156). Lang's reputation, therefore, currently stands as that of a talented but ultimately disappointing critic who, while attempting "to reunite the artist with a public that had already ceased to listen" (Weintraub 11), had paradoxically helped "to widen the split between the general reader and the serious or experimental artist in fiction" (Maurer 170).

Bad taste alone, however, cannot explain Lang's preference for the romance, a predilection he shared not only with Stevenson but with an unquestionably canonical novelist like Joseph Conrad. Rather than seeking to evaluate (and perhaps condemn) Lang's aesthetic judgment or his inability to pick the literary winners of his day, we need to explore the reasons why one of the most powerful literary arbiters in the last decades of the 19th century found the popular romance a more vibrant narrative form than the realistic novel. In doing so, I propose an investigation of Lang's literary criticism in the context of his career as an anthropologist and folklorist, a field in which Lang's reputation remains untarnished. Lang's dual role as a prominent late-19th-century anthropologist and literary critic, in fact, argues for a more serious look at him by those modern cultural critics who are interested in the confluence of anthropology and literary criticism.

One such area of interest and intersection between anthropological and aesthetic criticism has focused on questioning what James Clifford has described as "transcendent regime

s

of authenticity" (10), whether embodied in the elitist canons of High Culture or in the "endangered authenticities" of anthropological cultures (5). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Towards a Popular Culture: Andrew Lang's Anthropological and Literary Criticism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.