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Comments on the American Novel

1. "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?" - Sydney Smith, Edinburgh Review, 1820

2. "There are minds that have gone as far as Shakespeare into the universe. And hardly a mortal man, who, at some time or other, has not felt as great thoughts in him as any you will find in Hamlet. We must not inferentially malign mankind for the sake of any one man, whoever he may be. This is too cheap a purchase of contentment for conscious mediocrity to make. Besides, this absolute and unconditional adoration of Shakespeare has grown to be part of our Anglo-Saxon superstitions. The Thirty-Nine Articles are now Forty. Intolerance has come to exist in this matter. You must believe in Shakespeare's unapproachability, or quit the country. But what sort of a belief is this for an American, a man who is bound to carry republican progressiveness into Literature as well as Life? Believe me, my friends, that men, not very much inferior to Shakespeare, are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio. And the day will come when you shall say, "Who reads a book by an Englishman that is modern?" - Herman Melville, 1850

3. "But I don't know of anything in my book to be criticized on by honorable men. Is it on my spelling? - that's not my trade. Is it on my grammar? - I hadn't time to learn it, and make no pretensions to it. Is it on the order and arrangement of my book? - I know mighty little about that. Will it be on the authorship of the book? - this I claim, and I'll hang on to it like a wax plaster. The whole book is my own, and every sentiment and sentence of it. I would not be such a fool, or knave either, as to deny that I have had it run hastily over by a friend or so, and that some little alterations have been made in the spelling and grammar; and I am not sure it is not the worse of even that, for I despise this way of spelling contrary to my nature. And as for my grammar, it's pretty much of a thing of nothing at last, after all the fuss that's made about it. ... But if anybody complains that I have had it looked over, I can only say to him, her, or them - as the case may be - that while critics were learning grammar, and learning to spell, I and "Doctor Jackson, Ll. D." were fighting in the wars; and if our books and messages, and proclamations and cabinet writings, and so forth, and so on, should need a little looking over, and a little correcting of the spelling and grammar to make them fit for use, its just nobody's business. Big men have more important matters to attend to than crossing their t's, and dotting their i's, and such like small things." - Davy Crockett

4. "The moral is that the flower of art blooms only where the soil is deep, that it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature, that it needs a complex social machinery to set a writer in motion." - Henry James

5. "No author, without a trial, can conceive of the difficulty of writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a commonplace prosperity in broad and simple daylight, as is happily the case with my dear native land." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

6. "Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chambers of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in the tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind; and when the mind is imaginative - much more when it happens to be that of a man of genius - it takes to itself the faintest hints of life, it converts the very pulses of the air into revelations. The young lady living in a village has only to be a damsel upon whom nothing is lost to make it quite unfair (as it seems to me) to declare to her that she shall have nothing to say about the military. Greater miracles have been seen than that, imagination assisting, she should speak the truth about some of these gentlemen." - Henry James

7. "No man can reasonably boast of greater experience than another. He that has traveled over a great extent of country, is not necessarily deemed more thoroughly acquainted either with man or nature. There is no sphere, however limited, in which human nature may not be successfully studied, and in which sufficient opportunities are not afforded for the exercise of the deepest penetration." - Charles Brockdon Brown

8. "I know what the psychologists say, that a fellow can't comprehend a condition that he has never experienced. ... Of course, I have never been in a battle, but I believe that I got my sense of the rage of conflict on the football field, or else fighting is a hereditary instinct, and I wrote intuitively." - Stephen Crane

| Top | 9. "I'm inclined to think that my material, the South, is not very important to me. I just happen to know it, and don't have time to learn another one and write at the same time. Though the one I know is probably as good as another, life is a phenomenon but not a novelty, the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same no matter where in time." - William Faulkner

10. "The local novel would redeem American literature especially in the South and with the American Negro, and when the real Pacific literature comes. ... It will be such a literature as no other locality could produce, a literature that could not have been written in any other time, or among other surroundings." - Hamlin Garland

11. "During the past seven years we have had at least half a dozen treatments of the American farmer, ranging from New England to Nebraska; a least a dozen canny books about youth, some of them with surveys of the American universities for background; more than a dozen novels reflecting various aspects of New York, Chicago, Washington, Detroit, Indianapolis, Wilmington and Richmond, innumerable novels dealing with American politics, business, society, science, racial problems, art, literature, and moving pictures, and with Americans abroad at peace or in war; finally several novels of change and growth, tracing the swift decades for their own sweet lavender or protesting vaguely or ineffectually against industrialization of our beautiful old American life. We have had an Arnold Bennett for every five towns - surely by this time the foundations have been laid! Are we competent only to toil forever upon a never completed first floor whose specifications change from year to year?" - F. Scott Fitzgerald (mid-1920s)

12. "The art of fiction, as Jane Austen knew it, declined from her through Scott, and Bulwer, and Dickens, and Charlotte Bronte, and Thackeray, and even George Eliot, because the mania of romanticism had seized upon all Europe, and these great writers could not escape the taint of their time; but it has shown few signs of recovery in England, because English criticism in the presence of Continental masterpieces, has continued provincial and special and personal." - William Dean Howells

13. "Art is simpler than people think because there is so little to write about. All the moving things are eternal in man's history and have been written before, and if man writes hard enough, sincerely enough, humbly enough, and with the unalterable determination never to be quite satisfied with it, he will repeat them, because art like poverty takes care of its own, shares its bread." - William Faulkner

14. "Indeed, I know of no rarer or more valuable qualification than that describing common objects and relating familiar occurrences in such a manner as to render them pleasing and instructing, but when this talent is acquired, materials on which it may usefully and properly be exercised can never be deficient. I cannot conceive that the character of any man is unworthy to be known, and believe that there is no person, the incidents of whose life if skillfully related, would not furnish as much entertainment by their variety, and novelty as any fictitious narrative that ever was written." - Charles Brockden Brown

15. "Many people today are composing mere sentimentalism, and calling it and causing it to be called romance. ... The true Romance is a more serious business than this. It is not merely a conjurer's trick-box full of flimsy quackeries, tinsel and claptraps, meant only to amuse, and relying upon deception to do even that. ... Can we not see in it an instrument, keen, finely tempered, flawless - an instrument with which we may go straight through the clothes and tissues and wrappings of flesh down deep into the red, living heart of things?" - Frank Norris

16. "Romance, I take it, is the kind of fiction that takes cognizance of the variations from the type of normal life. Realism is the kind of fiction that confines itself to the type of normal life. According to this definition, the, Romance may even treat of the sordid, the unlovely - as, for instance, the novels of M. Zola. (Zola has been dubbed a Realist; but he is, on the contrary, the very head of the Romanticists. ...) The reason why one claims so much for Romance, and quarrels so pointedly with Realism, is that Realism stultifies itself. It notes only the surface of things. ... Realism is minute; it is the drama of a broken teacup, the tragedy of a walk down the block, the excitement of an afternoon call, the adventure of an invitation to dinner. It is the visit to my neighbor's house ... from which I may draw no conclusions" - Frank Norris

(from George Perkins, "The Novelist as American," The Theory of the American Novel, 1970.) 

| Top | Selected Bibliography: The Novel 2000-Present

Bentley, Nancy. Frantic Panoramas: American Literature and Mass Culture 1870&endash;1920. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2009.

Brown, Stephanie. The Postwar African American Novel: Protest and Discontent, 1945-1950. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2011.

Carroll, Joseph. Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature. NY: Routledge, 2004.

Caster, Peter. Prisons, Race, and Masculinity in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Film. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2008.

Caute, David. Politics and the Novel During the Cold War. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2010.

Conte, Joseph M. Design and Debris: A Chaotics of Postmodern American Fiction. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2002.

Cox, James H. Muting White Noise: Native American and European American Novel Traditions. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2006.

Davidson, Cathy N. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. NY: Oxford UP, 2004. (updated and expanded)

Dix, Andrew. The Contemporary American Novel in Context. NY: Continuum, 2011.

doCarmo, Stephen N. History and Refusal: Consumer Culture and Postmodern Theory in the Contemporary American Novel. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh UP, 2009.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2006.

Harris, W. C. Queer Externalities: Hazardous Encounters in American Culture. Albany: State U of New York P, 2009.

MacGowan, Christopher. The Twentieth-Century American Fiction Handbook. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Logan, Peter M. ed. The Encyclopedia of the Novel. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Mohr, Dunja M. Worlds Apart? Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005.

Morley, Catherine. The Quest for Epic in Contemporary American Fiction: John Updike, Philip Roth and Don DeLillo. NY: Routledge, 2009.

Murphy, Patrick D. Ecocritical Explorations in Literary and Cultural Studies: Fences, Boundaries, and Fields. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2009.

O'Gorman, Farrell. Peculiar Crossroads: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Catholic Vision in Postwar Southern Fiction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2004.

Pfitzer, Gregory M. Popular History and the Literary Marketplace, 1840-1920. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2008.

Rollyson, Carl. Biography: A User's Guide. Chicago: Dee, 2008.

Ryan, Tim A. Calls and Responses: The American Novel of Slavery since Gone with the Wind. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2008.

Scambray, Kenneth. Queen Calafia's Paradise: California and the Italian American Novel. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2007.

Shapiro, Stephen. The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel: Reading the Atlantic World-System. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 2008.

Tawil, Ezra F. The Making of Racial Sentiment: Slavery and the Birth of the Frontier Romance. NY: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Valkeakari, Tuire. Religious Idiom and the African American Novel, 1952-1998. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2007.

Wall, Cheryl A. Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage and Literary Tradition. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2005

Werlock, Abby H. P. ed. The Facts on File Companion to the American Novel. NY: Facts on File, 2006.

Williams, Raymond L. The Columbia Guide to the Latin American Novel since 1945. NY: Columbia UP, 2007.

Wood, James. How Fiction Works. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Wutz, Michael. Enduring Words: Literary Narrative in a Changing Media Ecology. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2009.

| Top | Selected Bibliography: The American Short Story 1980-Present

Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty. Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.

Cornes, Judy. Madness and the Loss of Identity in Nineteenth Century Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

Kimbel, Bobby E., ed. American Short-Story Writers, 1880-1910. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989. PN451 .D52x v.78

Levy, Andrew. America's Workshop: The Culture and Commerce of the Short Story. NY: Cambridge UP, 1993.

Lohafer, Susan. Reading for Storyness: Preclosure Theory, Empirical Poetics and Culture in the Short Story. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.

McSweeney, Kerry. The Realist Short Story of the Powerful Glimpse: Chekhov to Carver. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007.

Stevick, Philip, ed. The American Short Story, 1900-1945: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1984. PS374 .S5 A366

Weaver, Gordon, ed. The American Short Story, 1945-1980: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1983. PS374 .S5 A37

Whalan, Mark. Race, Manhood, and Modernism in America: The Short Story Cycles of Sherwood Anderson and Jean Toomer. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2007.

Wright, Austin M. American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989. PN451 .D52x v.86

Wood, James. How Fiction Works. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "PAL: Appendix C: American Fiction." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: http://www.paulreuben.website/pal/append/axc.html (provide page date or date of your login).

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