Cover

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Half Title, Further Titles, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

The essays in this collection trace, in one fashion or another, the arc of emergence and ascent in the careers of several American authors and literary classics, and in the American literary record in general. Between the two speculative pieces that open and close the collection-the first on the historical distinctiveness of our literary culture, ...

Part I

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1. Continuity in Discontinuity: Literature in the American Situation

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pp. 3-18

In one clearly documented respect the cultural as well as political and institutional history of the United States differs from that of other European and Atlantic nations: it comes down from originating covenants that lack—the Bible excepted—an immemorial authority. However privileged in common rhetoric, these covenants and written charters have remained vulnerable to the periodic recollection that they were enacted by identifiable persons with identifiable prejudices and life-interests ...

Part II

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2. “The People’s Author”: Attempting to Find Mr. Mark Twain

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pp. 21-38

There has been from the first a considerable elusiveness about Mr. Mark Twain, the famous American writer—about, precisely, his standing and character as a writer; about his evident differences from other indubitably important writers (that is, if he was in any orthodox sense a writer of literature); ...

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3. Emily Dickinson: The Community of the Poem

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pp. 39-52

Generating subtlety after critical subtlety, the attraction Emily Dickinson continues to exert over our criticism's inquisitorial restlessness confirms judgments of her essential strength and integrity. Yet this magnetizing sense of some still unsorted reserve of poetic authority has also worked to make critical commentary increasingly microscopic, ...

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4. Adventures of the Young Man: Brockden Brown’s Arthur Melvyn

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pp. 53-68

Though the novels of Charles Brockden Brown were never widely popular, they held the attention of a surprising number of Brown's juniors and betters (Shelley and Poe, W. H. Prescott and Margaret Fuller, who labeled him "a novelist by far our first in point of genius and instruction as to the soul of things"), and because they did, it isn't possible to remain content with the usual evaluation of Brown's achievement. ...

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5. The Scandal of Kate Chopin

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pp. 69-80

The name "Kate Chopin," attached to the work of a Louisiana-based story writer of the 1890s, has the ring of a particularly apt pseudonym. Among the numerous local-color writers of the time, most of them women, pen names were much in fashion. Yet nothing is more symptomatic of Kate Chopin's singular place in American literary history than that this foreign-sounding compound was in fact her proper name. ...

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6. O. Henry: His Life and Afterlife

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pp. 81-88

In 1916, six years after the much lamented death, at forty-eight, of the popular storyteller who called himself "O. Henry," a biography appeared—delayed for several years by the death of the man originally assigned to write it but kept afloat as a project by O. Henry's devoted publisher, Doubleday, Page and Company, who among other motives saw it as a means of recovering the sizeable advances outstanding at the writer's death. ...

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7. Modern Instances: Brooks, Mumford, Dreiser

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pp. 89-100

Van Wyck Brooks (1886-1963) and Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) were close friends and correspondents for more than forty years and major participants in the campaign for cultural "renewal" that played so large a part in the effort of American men of letters following World War I.1 ...

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8. “The Flight of the Rocket” and “The Last Good Country”: Fitzgerald and Hemingway in the 1920s, and After

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pp. 101-116

The upper Middle West of the United States, Fitzgerald's and Hemingway's home territory, is the hardest of American regions to characterize culturally and historically, though it is conceivably the easiest to be surprised by. During these writers' early lives it had been substantially settled and occupied for barely two generations. ...

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9. Pay Day: The Case of Nathan Asch

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pp. 117-134

In 1925 any knowledgeable listing of that new generation of American writers emerging to record the transformed sensibility of the post-World War I era—and in the process bring American fiction forward from provincial squeamishness into an unflinching modernity—would have included, along with Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald, the name of Nathan Asch. ...

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10. “Everything Is All Right and Difficult”: The Poems of Frank O’Hara

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pp. 135-144

A generation past the time of its creation, the "original, hydrogenic, anthropomorphic, fiscal, post-anti-esthetic, bland, unpicturesque, WilliamCarlosWilliamsian . . . definitely not nineteenth century . . . not even Partisan Review" poetry of Frank O'Hara (the self-characterization is in "Poem Read at Joan Mitchell's") is turning out to have been as classic, in the commendatory sense, as any in our still-vital Romantic tradition. ...

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11. Life “Upstate”: Edmund Wilson’s American Memoir

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pp. 145-154

A year before his death in 1972, the American critic and man of letters Edmund Wilson published a book dealing with the isolated district in northern New York State, on the western edge of the Adirondack wilderness, where sixty-some years earlier he had regularly spent summer holidays and to which, around 1950, he began returning each year for the summer season. ...

Part III

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12. Culture and Consciousness, 1860–1915: The Onset of the Modern

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pp. 157-176

In any modern society or era the intellectual life bearing directly on literary creation is, broadly speaking, twofold. There is the collateral territory where philosophers, scientists, members of the certified intellectual professions do their work—work of a kind that persistently challenges literary imaginations to vindicate in some fashion their own centrifugal existence. ...

Permissions

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pp. 177-178

Index

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pp. 179-186