3 History of American Literature (1800-1900)

Mr. Md Hasanujjaman

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The title of this module is the “The History of American Literature (1800-1900)”. It tries to trace the history of the American literature which is said to have started during the 17th century colonial times when the British were the rulers of the land. The British writers produced literature with the theme of exploration but the nature of their content was also to glorify the British rule. However, the American native writers beginning with Washington Irving produced literary works with the anti-colonial rhetoric. In the initial stages of the American literature the writers emphasised on the writings dealing with national imagination and it goes on to create a romantic sensation in the corpus of American literature. The module also analyzes the development of realism and different currents of literary movements in the 19th century history of American literature.


The American literature basically is the corpus of literary works produced in the English language in the United States. In general it depicts the socio-political-cultural and economic dynamisms of the United States. To trace history, for almost more than a century, America was merely colonial provinces scattered along the eastern seaboard of the North American continent from where only a few brave souls dared to venture towards the west. After a successful revolt against the British colonizers, America achieved independence. But in the initial phases of American history, the different provinces of America had their autonomy and were considered many nationalities until the emergence of the unified sense of American nationalism which led to the formation of the United States as an independent and sovereign nation state. Gradually, by the end of the 19th century the United States extended her territory across the regions. By the same time the United States had also become one of the major powers of the world and developed gigantically. In the course of time, as the lives of people experienced radical changes by the inroads of science, industry, as well as the changes, they also changed their ways of perceiving and the entire notion of the world. The growth of history and the radical development of the United States shaped the literature of the country.


The production of American literature began with advent of the American Revolution which emphasized on differences that were soaring up between American and British political consciousness. The American colonized people opposed the British colonialism and slavery. The prominent figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine wrote intensively against the British colonization and this opposition gradually led to the new national imagination in the American society. They used American day to day lives, changing dynamisms, historical perceptions, and nostalgic propensity. They wrote in various prose genres, invented new forms, and in many ways they earned through literature. As the new genres appeared, the American literature got unprecedented readership and wide popularity in and out of the United States. 

Early 19th-century literature


After the American Revolution, and especially after the War of 1812, the growing demand of national imagination of the American people created an ambience for the American writers to produce a literature concerning nativity. As response to the growing demand of national imagination, the four prominent authors such as Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe emerged in the period. They created the literary development in the aftermath of the American Declaration of Independence and in  the ensuing formation of the nation. They produced literary works which brought dynamism to the national life of American people.


Washington Irving (1789-1859)


Washington Irving was born in a moderate trader family of New York and he was appointed as cultural and diplomatic ambassador to Europe. Though he had talent, he would not perhaps become a full-fledged writer as he had financial crisis. But it was a series of unexpected incidents which actually forced him to take up writing as a profession. With his friends` help, he could publish The Sketch Book (1819-1820) both in England and in America, and gained copyrights and payment from both the countries.


The Sketch Book of Geoffrye Crayon, Irving’s pen name consists of his two best remembered stories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” “Sketch” is about Irving’s subtle, elegant, but more or less casual style, and pastel is about his ability as a creator of rich, nuanced tones and emotional effects. In the Sketch Book, Irving transforms the Catskill Mountains along the Hudson River into a fabulous, magical region. This transforming of imagined history was widely accepted by the American readers as this related the history to the imagination of a new nation.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)


James Fenimore Cooper like Irving also came from a Quaker family. He was brought up in his Otsego Lake in central New York State. He spent his boyhood in feudal and peaceful environment but once he had witnessed the scene of an Indian massacre. When he was a boy, Cooper saw frontiersmen and Indians at Otsego Lake and in later life, he saw bold white settlers trespassed in his land. This personal experience enabled Cooper to write intensely about the wilderness of American history and the lives of the frontiersmen and their different cultures.


Natty Bumppo, Cooper’s renowned literary character based on his vision of the frontiersman as a gentleman, a Jeffersonian “natural aristocrat.” In The Pioneers, Cooper discovered Natty as the first famous frontiersman in American literature and the literary prototype of numerous cowboy and backwoods heroes. Natty is the idealized and upright individualist. Though he is poor and isolated, he is pure and an example of ethical values (VanSpranckeren, 23).


The connected themes of Cooper`s five novels altogether known as the Leather- Stocking Tales exhibit the tribal life of Natty Bumppo. They are Cooper’s best achievements and constitute a vast prose epic. They portray the North American continent as setting, Indian tribes as characters, and great wars and westward migration as social background. The novels bring life to frontier America from 1740 to 1804 (23).

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)


Bryant came from Cummmington of Massachusetts and grew up in wonderful scenery of the state. He was the first American poet to write a political satire “The Embargo”. His blank verse hymn “Thanatopsis,” came out in the North American Review in 1817. It was a great work which won him popularity in England. His poem is still considered a poetical masterpiece of the time and it is said that Wordsworth also learnt it by heart and valued it most. Under Wordsworth and other Romantic poets` influence, he wrote nature lyrics that portrayed the New England scene. In later stages he became a journalist and fought the liberal editor of The Evening Post. However, he was eclipsed by the genius of Washington Irving.

American Renaissance


F. O. Matthiessen in his 1941 book American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman used the phrase “American Renaissance”. For him, the American Renaissance was concerned about the dedication of all his five writers of his book to “the possibilities of democracy.” As an effect of the Renaissance the authors of the 1830s – the classic New Englanders, the humorists, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and many others— commenced their work with new spirit for the national consciousness. They were influenced by the larger democratic forces and also by the romantic era which emphasized on producing literature depicting native scenes and characters in order to create a new picture of America.

The wave of Romanticism created a very positive and conducive space for most American poets and creative essayists. It also created for them a new vision and exhilarated artistic and intellectual environment which was responsible for the realization of the national consciousness and creating a space for distinctive American voice. But more specifically, romanticism conceptualized art as inspiration, spiritual and aesthetic dimension of nature, and metaphors of organic development. The Romantic spirit seemed particularly conducive for the American democratic values. It emphasized on individualism, the value of a common person and it also looked to the inspired imagination for its aesthetic and ethical values. Certainly the New England Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and their associates were inspired to a new optimistic affirmation by the Romantic movement (VanSpranckeren, 26).

The Transcendentalists


The appearance of Transcendentalist movement was a reaction against the 18th-century rationalism and the 19the-century humanitarian thought. The fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God was the ground for the movement. The soul of each individual was thought to be equal with the world. The principle of self-reliance and individualism developed through the belief in the recognition of the individual soul with God. The concept of Transcendentalism was closely linked with Concord, a small New England village of Boston. It offered a divine and cultural alternative to American materialism. It was a place of high-minded conversation and simple living. The place attracted the literary figures such as Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and other figures like Fuller, Alcott, and Channing (VanSpranckeren, 26).


The Transcendentalists published a quarterly magazine, The Dial, which continued for four years and was first edited by Margaret Fuller and later by Emerson. The magazine dealt with reformation and literature. A number of Transcendentalists were abolitionists, and some were involved in experimental utopian communities such as nearby Brook Farm and Fruitlands (27).


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the important literary figures in his era. He had a religious sense of inclination. Though he was accused of subverting Christianity, for him being a true religious means one has to even leave the so called church. He delivered an address in 1838 at the Harvard Divinity School which made him unwelcomed for next 30 years. In his address he criticised the church for acting “as if God were dead” and for imposing religious dogma while killing the true spirit of religion.


Many found Emerson’s philosophy as conflicting and it is true that he consciously avoided creating an intellectual rational structure because it was opposed to his romantic values of instinct and flexibility. Emerson, in his essay “Self-Reliance,” has remarked, “A foolish consistency is the dwarf of little minds.” Yet he is remarkably consistent to create the American individualism inspired by nature. Most of his major ideas — the need for a new national vision, the use of personal experience, the notion of the cosmic Over-Soul, and the doctrine of compensation — are suggested in his literary work, Nature (1836) (VanSpranckeren, 28).

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)


Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord and lived there permanently. Throughout his life, he minimized his necessities to the simplest level and managed to live through financial crisis but yet preserved his self-independence. A dissenter, he always tried to live his life according to his rigorous principles. This attempt was the subject of many of his writings.


In his masterpiece Walden, or, Life in the Woods (1854), Thoreau, a lover of travel books gives us an anti-travel account for the first time in American literature. But paradoxically it gives us an insight of self-discovery which actually guides for living a classical good life. Both poetry and philosophy, this long poetic essay challenges the reader to examine his or her life and live it genuinely. Thoreau is the most relevant figure of the Transcendentalists today for his ecological consciousness, independence, abolitionist values, and political theory of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance. His ideas are still appealing, and his insightful poetic style and habit of close observation are still modern (29).

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)


Walt Whitman was a amateur carpenter and popular man whose luminous and innovative work reflected America`s democratic spirit. He wrote an imaginative book Leaves of Grass inspired largely by Emerson’s writings celebrated all the creation. The poem’s innovative, unrhymed, free verse style, sexual vocality, vibrant democratic sensibility, extreme Romantic assertion that the poet always advocated, the universe, and the reader permanently altered the course of American poetry (29-31).


Whitman’s greatness is also visible in many of his poems like, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” The other important work is his long essay “Democratic Vistas” (1871) which was composed during the excessive materialism of industrialism’s “Gilded Age.” In this essay, Whitman justly disapprove of America`s greed for power and wealth. He calls for a new kind of literature to revive the American population with a spirit of humanity.

The Brahmin Poets


In their time, the Boston Brahmins who were Harvard-educated class and known as Brahmins held the most regarded and genuinely cultivated literary authority of the United States. Their lives fitted a pleasant pattern of wealth and leisure directed by the strong New England work ethic and regard for learning. They used to be ministers, professors at Harvard and also ambassadors or got honorary degrees from Europe in later stages. They also used to express their European –oriented opinions in the US through the Boston magazines, the North American Review and the Atlantic Monthly (32).


The writings of the Brahmin poets amalgamated American and European traditions and sought to create a continuity of shared Atlantic experience. These scholar-poets tried to educate and lift up the general population by familiarizing a European aspect to American literature. But ironically, they were conservative and their impositions of the European styles stalled the growth of a distinctive American consciousness. The most important Boston Brahmin poets were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell (ibid).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


Longfellow, a Harvard professor of modern languages, was the best-known American poet of his time. He was responsible for the steamy, ahistorical, legendary sense of the past that fused American and European traditions. He wrote three long narrative poems popularizing native legends in European styles — “Evangeline” (1847), “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855), and “The Courtship of Miles Standish” (1858). Longfellow also wrote textbooks on modern languages and a travel book named Outre-Mer, retelling foreign legends by following Washington Irving’s Sketch Book. He also wrote short lyrics like “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” (1854), “My Lost Youth” (1855), and “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” (1880) (33).


James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)


James Russell Lowell, who is also a Harvard professor of modern languages, can be called Matthew Arnold of American literature. He began as a poet but slowly lost his poetic ability and ended as a regarded critic and educator. As editor of the Atlantic and co-editor of the North American Review, Lowell drew enormous influence. His A Fable for Critics (1848) is a funny and suitable judgment of American writers. Under his wife’s influence,  Lowell became a liberal reformer, abolitionist, and supporter of women’s suffrage and anti-child labour movement (ibid).

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)


Oliver Wendell Holmes, a notable physician and Harvard professor, is the hardest of the three eminent Brahmins to categorize as his work is marked by a refreshing versatility. It encompasses collections of humorous essays (for example, The Autocrat of the Breakfast- Table, 1858), novels (Elsie Venner, 1861), biographies (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1885), and verse that could be vigorous (“The Deacon’s Masterpiece, or, The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay”), philosophical (“The Chambered Nautilus”), or passionately devoted (“Old Ironsides”) (ibid).

Two Reformers


In the years before the Civil War the New England shined with intellectual energy. Some important figures, who are valued today than the collection of Brahmins, were encompassed by poverty, gender or race issue in the own age. But the modern readers toady more and more started to value the work of the abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier and feminist and social reformer Margaret Fuller ibid).


John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)


John Greenleaf Whittier was the most active poet of the era. He was an ardent abolitionist for decades before people came to know it. He is regarded for his anti-slavery poems such as “Ichabod,” and his poetry also represents regional realism. His best work, “Snow Bound,” lucidly recalls the poet’s departed family members and friends. This simple, religious, intensely personal poem, coming after the long nightmare of the Civil War, is an elegy for the dead and a healing hymn. It establishes the eternity of the spirit, the timeless power of love in the memory, and the undiminished beauty of nature, despite violent outer political storms (33-34).

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)


Margaret Fuller, an exceptional essayist, was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the first reputed professional woman journalist in America. She wrote influential book reviews and reports on social issues such as the treatment of women prisoners and the insane. In Papers on Literature and Art (1846) she published some of these essays. A year earlier, she wrote her most significant book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. It originally had appeared in the Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, which she edited from 1840 to 1842. Fuller’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century is the earliest and most American exploration of women’s role in society.

The Romantic Period


The figures like Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, are the first great literary generation emerged in the romantic age of the United States. In the case of the novelists, the Romantic vision aimed to express itself in the form Hawthorne called the “romance,” a heightened, emotional, and symbolic form of the novel. Romances were not always about love stories, but also serious novels that used special techniques to communicate complex and subtle meanings in literary works.


The form of Romanticism symbolizes dark and frightening imaginary and indicates the level of difficulty to form an identity without a stable society. The predicament of most of the Romantic heroes is death in the end: All the sailors except Ishmael die in Moby Dick, and the sensitive but sinful minister Arthur Dimmesdale dies at the end of The Scarlet Letter. The theme of tragic death dominantly occurs in American novels. Thus, romanticism portrays the greater social tragedy of a society represented in an uncanny human imagination (VanSpranckeren, 36-7).

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)


Nathaniel Hawthorne, a fifth generation American of English descent, was born in Salem, Massachusetts and he had association with East India trade. The setting of many of Hawthorne’s stories is Puritan New England, and his greatest novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), is a classic portrayal of Puritan America.


His fame rests on his other novels and tales such as The House of the Seven Gables (1851) where he again returns to the history of New England. The theme of the novel is about an inherited curse and its resolution through love. Hawthorne’s last two novels had less success. The Blithedale Romance (1852) interestingly depicts the socialist, utopian Brook Farm community. In the book, Hawthorne criticizes arrogant, power-hungry social reformers who are not truly democratic. The Marble Faun (1860), which is set in Rome, is based on the Puritan themes of sin, isolation, expiation, and salvation. On similar themes Hawthorne also wrote his best-known shorter stories like “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” (37).


Herman Melville (1819-1891)


The other important American fiction writer associated with Hawthorne was Herman Melville. After his little schooling, Melville went to sea; a whaling ship, as he put it, was his “Yale College and his Harvard.” His first books were fictional but based on his factual experiences as a sailor—Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847); same were the later works such as Redburn (1849) and White-Jacket (1850). Between 1846 and 1851, however, Melville got new interest and goal in writings by reading philosophy and literary classics, as well as by Hawthorne’s allegorical and symbolic writings. His new interest first reflected in Mardi (1849), which was an irregular and rambling book that used allegorical model of Rabelais to generate ideas of nations, politics, institutions, literature, and religion. The new techniques were also used in Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851), a richly symbolic work, complex but brilliantly integrated novel. Melville also authored short stories, (Benito Cereno), psychological novel (Pierre, 1852), and novelette (Billy Budd).


Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)


Edgar Allan Poe, a southerner, shares Melville`s metaphysical vision mixed with literary components of realism, parody, and burlesque. He defined the genre of short story and invented detective fiction. Many of his stories anticipate the genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy which are so popular today.


The themes of death-in-life, specially being buried alive or returning like a vampire from the grave, occur in many of his works like “The Premature Burial,” “Ligeia,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” His best-known poem, for all time, is “The Raven” (1845). In this uncanny poem, the haunted, wakeful narrator, who has been reading and grieving the death of his “lost Lenore” at midnight, is visited by a raven that sits on his door and gloomily reiterates the poem’s celebrated refrain, “nevermore.” Poe also composed popular stories like “The Gold Bug” and “The Purloined Letter” based on the theme of ratiocination, or reasoning .


Women Writers of the Era


In American society women faced many inequalities in the 19th century. They were denied the right to vote, right to education, were prohibited to speak in public and even to attend public conventions, and unable to own property. To counter these inequalities and patriarchal hegemony, the women writers gathered and a strong women’s network grew up. The women started their revolutionary journey for social change through women’s newspapers, books, letters, personal friendships, formal meetings. The intellectual women observed a parallel humanization of women and the slaves. Through their acute observation and realization they became outrageous. They out rightly demanded their fundamental rights. Through their intellectual literary works they outburst their resentment and crave for an equal for society. They also composed sentimental novels to express their quest for equality and liberty. The sentimental novels, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, gained gigantic popularity. They were successful to draw the emotional response from the audience and often through enactment they appealed to the emotions and often dramatized controversial social issues, especially those dealing with the family issues and roles of women. The leading reforming women writers were Lydia Child, Angelina Grimké, Sarah Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)


The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly written by Harriet Beecher Stowe was a masterpiece and became the most popular American book of the 19th century. It was first published serially in the National Era magazine (1851-1852) and it gained instant success. It was printed by many publishers in England and was translated into 20 languages. It was such a masterpiece that it received acclamations from popular figures like Georges Sand in France, Heinrich Heine in Germany, and Ivan Turgenev in Russia. The novel had so powerful anti-slavery rhetoric that it could initiate a dialogue in American within a short period of time .


Harriet Jacobs (1818-1896)


Born a slave in North Carolina, Harriet Jacobs learnt to read and write from her mistress. She had a terrified life experience as a slave. But she resisted and moved ahead. On meeting and becoming friends with Amy Post, a Quaker feminist abolitionist, she got encouragement for authoring her autobiography to narrate her plight as a woman. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published under the pseudonym of “Linda Brent” in 1861, was edited by Lydia Child. The autobiography outrageously condemned the sexual harassment of black slave women. Jacobs’s book, like Douglass’s book, is part of the slave narrative genre encompassing the narratives of Olaudah Equiano in colonial times (45).

Harriet Wilson (1807-1870)


Harriet Wilson was the first African-American writer who published a novel in the America — Our Nig: or, Sketches from the life of a Free Black (1859) which is about the plight of the black in the American society. The novel also realistically displays the marriage between a white woman and a black man, and also depicts the difficult life of a black servant in a wealthy Christian household.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)


Frederick Douglass, born a slave on a Maryland plantation is considered most legendary black American anti-slavery leader and orator of the era. In 1845, he published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave which is considered the best and most popular slave narrative in the American history. Often dictated by illiterate blacks to white abolitionists and used as propaganda, these slave narratives were well-known in the years just before the Civil War. Douglass’s narrative is clear and highly literate, and it provides unique insights into the psychology and anguish of slavery that the black people faced institutionally (46).

The Phase of Realism


After the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) there was a social transformation of industry, agriculture, slavery in American history. Before the war, idealists celebrated human rights, especially the abolition of slavery but after the war, Americans increasingly idealized development and the self-made man. Business grew faster in the post-war situation. The new developments of rail system, the transcontinental telegraph, industry access to materials, markets, and communications took place. But when industrialization took place, alienation also grew up. Exemplary American novels of the period — Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Jack London’s Martin Eden, and later Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy — depict the damage of economic forces and alienation on the weak or vulnerable individuals. Survivors, like Twain’s Huck Finn, Humphrey Vanderveyden in London’s The Sea-Wolf, and Dreiser’s opportunistic Sister Carrie, endure through inner strength involving kindness, flexibility, and, above all, individuality. These novels thus bring the sense of realism.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)


Samuel Clemens, who was is better known by his pen name of Mark Twain, grew up in the Mississippi River of Missouri. He is the towering figure in American literature. For Twain and other American writers of the late 19th century, realism was not merely a literary technique. But it was a way of speaking universal truth and igniting new directions of life. This technique was profoundly liberating and changed the social dimensions.


The novel Huckleberry Finn has realistic approach to life and the example could be the character, Huck Finn, a poor boy who decides to listen to his conscience and helps a Negro slave to be free, even though Huck thinks this means that he will be put to hell for disobeying the law. This realistic picture has immensely inspired countless literary interpretations. It is clearly a story of death, rebirth, and initiation. Twain also writes Life on the Mississippi where he depicts the changing relationship between reality and illusion which is the characteristic theme of his novel.

William Dean Howells


Another figure of realism was William Dean Howells who was born in 1837 in Ohio. He was novelist and critic of the late 19th century American literature. He was also a champion of realism which he has demonstrated in his writings. He began his literary career by joining the Atlantic Monthly as a contributor and editor. He became close friend of Mark Twain and Henry James and friendships also boost his literary venture. His writings such as A Modern Instance, The Rise of Silas Lapham, A Hazard of New Fortunes, show his sense of social realism. He shows the American ordinary life in contrast to the lavish and corrupt life of the Gilded Age. The motives of his ordinary characters are basically love, humanity, egalitarianism, idealism, and dream. Later in his life Howells wrote political works, for example, a biography of Abraham Lincoln.


Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)


Since his childhood he had little chance to have formal education but he educated himself by reading books from his father`s library. During the Civil war in America, he joined the Union Army and in that time he was severely wounded but he continued and gained major rank in the Army. His career began to be literary when after the Bierce joined a newspaper job in San Francisco. After that he went to London and wrote three small books such as, Nuggets and Dust (1872), The Fiend’s Delight (1873), and Cobwebs and Dust (1874). His acute criticism and humour made him known as “Bitter Bierce”. He also wrote short stories dealing with supernatural themes which earned his popularity in the 19th century American political and literary spaces. (Bode, 120).

Henry James (1843-1916)


Cosmopolitanism is a part of realism which Henry James represents in his novels. James once wrote that art, especially literary art, “makes life, makes interest, makes importance.”James’s fiction and criticisms are the most highly conscious, sophisticated, and difficult of its time. He is known for his global theme — that is, the complex relationships between naive Americans and cosmopolitan Europeans (VanSpranckeren, 51-53).


In his first phase James wrote Transatlantic Sketches (travel pieces, 1875), The American (1877), Daisy Miller (1879), and a masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady (1881). The second phase of his writings deals with the subject matters — feminism and social reform in The Bostonians (1886) and political stratagem in The Princess Casamassima (1885).In his third, or “major,” phase James returned to international subjects, but treated them with increasing sophistication and psychological penetration. The complex and almost mythical The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904) date from this major period (51-52).


Naturalism in Literature


Naturalism is essentially a literary representation of determinism. It is associated with miserable and realistic depictions of lower-class life. The determinism negates religion as a motivating force in the world and instead perceives the universe as a machine. Eighteenth- century Enlightenment thinkers had also imagined the world as a machine, but as a perfect one, invented by God and tending toward progress and human betterment. Naturalists imagined society, instead, as a blind machine, godless and out of control.


The naturalist writers such as Stephen Crane, Jack London, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and Upton Sinclair used realism to relate the individual to society. Often they uncovered social problems and were influenced by Darwinian thought and the related philosophical credence of determinism, which looks at individuals as the helpless wager of economic and social forces out of their control. Like Romanticism, naturalism first appeared in Europe. It daringly opened up the unpleasant pictures of society regarding divorce, sex, adultery, poverty, and crime and it actually flourished as Americans became urbanized and aware of the importance of large economic and social forces (53).

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)


Born in New Jersey, Stephen Crane was associated with the Revolutionary War soldiers, clergymen, sheriffs, judges, and farmers of earlier century. He is primarily a journalist but also wrote fiction, essays, poetry, and play. Crane saw life at its rawest, in slums and on battlefields. His Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) is one of the best naturalistic American novels. His short stories — especially, “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” — demonstrated naturalistic literary form. His evocative Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, was published in 1895, but he could not see the achievement due to his death at the age of 29. He was virtually forgotten during the early 20th century, but has regained his popularity through Thomas Beer`s biography in 1923. Since then he is considered a realist, and a symbolist (53-54).


Poets of the Era


Though the later 19th century and early years of the 20th century were a poor period for American poetry but two distinctive poets wrote songs that survived and enjoyed popularity. One was Southern-born Sidney Lanier, a talented musician who utilized the rhythms of music and the thematic developments of symphonies in such fine songs as “Corn” (1875), “The Symphony” (1875), and “The Marshes of Glynn” (1878). Upset, like many of his contemporaries, by changes in American life, he demonstrated his doubts, fears, and suggestions into his richest poems.


The other poet was a New Englander namely Emily Dickinson. She was born in Massachusetts` Amherst. Her father was an eminent lawyer and a politician. She never married and led a quite sensitive and lonely life by loving the nature and its creations. Influenced by the writers like Elizabeth Browning and Bronte sisters, she began her literary career by writings poems in 1860s. Though she wrote so many poems, her poems were not allowed to be published until her death in 1890. It is only after her death that the first book of her poems was published and then the other collections followed. Such poems as “The Snake,” “I Like to See It Lap the Miles,” “The Chariot,” “Farther in Summer than the Birds,” and “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” represented her unusual talent at its best. Her poems were terse and expressions of imagistic quality. She demonstrated the modern and innovative characteristics in her poems. She was a nonconformist like Thoreau and wrote her poems with changing the meanings of words and phrases and also she used paradoxes. Her poems made her one of greatest poet in American literary history.

Therefore, to conclude the module seeks present a lucid 19th century history of American literature. Literature is a corpus of literary writings which began during American Revolution period. In initial stages of 19th century of American literary production the writers dealt with the themes of national imagination in the writings. After the American Declaration of Independence, as the socio-political and cultural factors of American life were rapidly changing, the phases of literary thematic productions were also changing. Literature has gone through the phases of American Renaissance to the movement of transcendentalism of the romantic period. It has also been part of the American realism. In different phases of literary movements, literary writings have demonstrated different themes and contributed to the growth of the movements. Through literary writings the women writers claimed their rights and also sought to reform the society. Thus, the 19th century history of American literature depicts the rapid growth of Americana society and socio-economic-political and cultural conditions.

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