Reading for Liberalism
The Overland Monthly and the Writing of the Modern American West
Publication Year: 2013
Founded in 1868, the Overland Monthly was a San Francisco–based literary magazine whose mix of humor, pathos, and romantic nostalgia for a lost frontier was an immediate sensation on the East Coast. Due in part to a regional desire to attract settlers and financial investment, the essays and short fiction published in the Overland Monthly often portrayed the American West as a civilized evolution of, and not a savage regression from, eastern bourgeois modernity and democracy.
Stories about the American West have for centuries been integral to the way we imagine freedom, the individual, and the possibility for alternate political realities. Reading for Liberalism examines the shifting literary and narrative construction of liberal selfhood in California in the late nineteenth century through case studies of a number of western American writers who wrote for the Overland Monthly, including Noah Brooks, Ina Coolbrith, Bret Harte, Jack London, John Muir, and Frank Norris, among others. Reading for Liberalism argues that Harte, the magazine’s founding editor, and the other members of the Overland group critiqued and reimagined the often invisible fabric of American freedom. Reading for Liberalism uncovers and examines in the text of the Overland Monthly the relationship between wilderness, literature, race, and the production of individual freedom in late nineteenth-century California.
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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After the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, it suddenly became popular to refer to the American West — the Wild West, technically — as a way of making sense of the two wars. For a number of soldiers, politicians, pundits, and journalists, the mythic language of the nineteenth-century...
Introduction: Liberalism and the Language of Wilderness
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In 1898, long after Bret Harte’s literary star had faded, Henry James published a scathing critique of Harte in a London literary magazine. James was concerned with what he called “schools” in American fiction and felt that Harte, who had achieved his “literary fortune” nearly thirty years earlier...
Chapter 1: Theoria and Liberal Governmentality: Travel in Bret Harte’s Overland Monthly
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When the Overland began publishing in 1868, periodical culture and the western travel industry were not as enmeshed as they would become in subsequent years. But decades later, as the nineteenth century drew to a close, magazines became increasingly complicit in the ongoing conquest...
Chapter 2: Narrative and Liberal Selfhood: Noah Brooks and the Aesthetics of History
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At one point early in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sat reading quietly with a friend and confidant named Noah Brooks (1830–1903). Lincoln was already popularly known as the first “western” president, and Brooks, then a correspondent for the Sacramento Daily Union, was a western transplant...
Chapter 3: “With Which It Was My Fortune to Be Affiliated”: Social Contingency in the Life and Poetry of Ina Coolbrith
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On June 30, 1915, seventy-four-year-old Ina Coolbrith was crowned the first poet laureate of California. Along with Noah Brooks, Anton Roman, and poet and novelist Charles Warren Stoddard, Coolbrith had been integral to the founding and growth of Bret Harte’s Overland nearly a half-century earlier...
Chapter 4: The Limits of Liberalism: Chinese, Indians, and the Politics of Cosmopolitanism in the West
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Just after Bret Harte left San Francisco to write for the Atlantic Monthly, a young and still largely unknown satirist named Ambrose Bierce published his first story with the Overland, a tale designed to undercut conventional assumptions about western anti-Chinese prejudice. “The Haunted Valley” was published...
Chapter 5: The Greening of Nineteenth- Century Liberalism: John Muir’s Wilderness and the Discourse of Civilization
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In 1903, while on a political jaunt through the West, President Theodore Roosevelt asked John Muir to serve as his guide through Yosemite. Muir was a writer, naturalist, and founder of the Sierra Club who had gotten his start thirty years ago in the Overland Monthly, and Roosevelt was a fan of his...
Chapter 6: The Brute’s Luck: Liberal Egalitarianism and the Politics of Literary Naturalism
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The decades surrounding the Civil War saw tremendous upheaval in the legal and cultural definition of personhood in the United States. These decades were in fact the most crucial moments in the legal history of American liberal individualism. Although the 1776 Declaration of Independence...
Conclusion: The Overland Group, Luck, and the Writing of the West
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In preparing to launch the Overland Monthly, Bret Harte and Anton Roman seemed to think the magazine could accrue cultural value and foster the “material development” of the Pacific coast only if it was positioned in a way that implied an affinity with, or an extension of, genteel eastern literary...
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Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013