Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century

By Leonard Lutwack | Go to book overview

Introduction

In the present state of literary criticism, to call a piece of writing "epic" can no longer accepted as the assertion of merit it once was when genres were confidently arranged in a hierarchy in which the epic occupied the first rank. The manufacturer of floor wax may suggest the highest quality and best performance by naming his product Epic, but the literary critic cannot do the same for a book without yielding to the blurring of popular usage. For him the attribution of epic qualities to contemporary writing must be primarily a method of classification promising only to show the manner in which traditional forms and materials continue to be adapted. He assumes that all narrative writing uses some epic conventions and that some novels use more than others, and these he calls epic novels. He must admit that the novel that preserves certain themes and forms of the past, and does not treat them ironically, sets itself against the current of most contemporary fiction. In America the epic is even considered by some to be a distinctly uncharacteristic form. "American fiction has approximated the poetry of the idyl or of melodrama more often than of epic," Richard Chase believes.1 According to E. M. W. Tillyard, the true American form is "the documentary novel" of Dreiser and Dos Passos, whose works are said to occupy a place in the history of American literature equivalent

-xi-

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Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - History and Definition 1
  • 2 - The Octopus 23
  • 3 - The Grapes of Wrath 47
  • 4 - For Whom the Bell Tolls 64
  • 5 - Bellow's Odysseys 88
  • 6 - Invisible Man 122
  • 7 - The Continuing Tradition 142
  • Notes 157
  • Selected Bibliography 167
  • Index 171
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