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Shirley Samuels

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799, 1800-1899

Key-Topics fiction

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631234227.2004.00002.x


What does American fiction look like in the foundational period of the early republic, from the earliest declarations of nationhood until secession and civil war? This collection of essays sets out to present the current state of criticism in an area that is at once extremely familiar and just beginning to be studied. During the academy's earlier appraisals, critics assumed that nineteenth-century American literature needed time to mature from its dependency on English and European models. Even before such landmark studies as those by F. O. Matthiessen ( American Renaissance ), Richard Chase ( The American Novel and its Tradition ), and Leslie Fiedler ( Love and Death in the American Novel ) in the mid-twentieth century, which defined the terms in which the field was thereafter discussed, the period assumed for such maturation was about two generations past the American Revolution. The notorious coincidence of the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on the same day (July 4, 1826) marked the close of the first generation. The next generation reached its writerly potential, as this argument has it, during the 1850s, in a lull before the terrible sectional crisis known as the American Civil War put literary appreciation in the shadow of national violence. Twentieth-century assessments of early nineteenth-century American literature stressed the dependence on English traditions ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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