Canons by Consensus
Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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Joseph Csicsila’s Canons by Consensus: Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies is an innovative piece of scholarship—provocative by implication, lucid in presentation, steady in judgment. What the author has done is to methodically drill test bores through strata of representations of American literature in eighty-plus anthologies from 1919 to...
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I would like to begin by expressing my indebtedness to the late Daniel McKeithan, whose extensive collection of American literature anthologies provided the basis for this study. I am also obliged to Irene Wong and the rest of the Gribben family, Alan, Valerie, and Walter, for preserving this rare collection....
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Only a handful of studies have previously noted the part that college-level literature textbooks have played historically in the rising and falling reputations of American authors and texts. Yet as Henry Louis Gates Jr. observed in 1992, “a well-marked anthology functions in the academy to create a tradition, as well as to define and preserve it.”1 Indeed, most...
1. The Historical Context
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The story of the American literature anthology really begins in the late nineteenth century with the desire of a number of university scholars to formalize the study of their nation’s own literary artists. Although more than a century had passed since the United States gained its political freedom from Great Britain, English departments in American universities...
2. Early- and Mid-Nineteenth-Century Prose: Irving, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville
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Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville, because their work constitutes the nation’s earliest acclaimed imaginative prose, illustrate well the trends in textbook publishing in the twentieth century. The diminishment of Irving’s popularity among anthology editors, for instance, is traceable in...
3. Nineteenth-Century Poetry: Whitman, Dickinson, Alice Cary, Phoebe Cary, Larcom, Thaxter, Lanier, Tabb
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The reputations of practically all nineteenth-century American poets in anthologies of American literature since 1919 have undergone dramatic shifts of one kind or another. Predictably, the poetry of such minor authors as Alice and Phoebe Cary, Lucy Larcom, Celia Thaxter, Sidney Lanier, and John Banister Tabb was dealt with inconsistently in twentieth-century...
4. Post–Civil War Prose: Twain, Harte, Howells, James
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The favored early- and mid-nineteenth-century American poets and fiction writers possessed two traits in particular that accounted for their frequent appearances in anthologies of American literature. The first and perhaps more obvious characteristic common among writers who enjoyed editorial embracement in the twentieth century was a modernist...
5. Latter-Nineteenth-Century Prose: Stowe, Jewett, Freeman, Chopin
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Over the last thirty years few critical debates have matched the energy of discussions concerning the purported historical exclusion of late-nineteenth-century women writers of fiction from twentieth-century college-level literary textbooks. Scholars have increasingly expressed indignation that since the 1920s the works of authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Kate...
6. The African American Heritage: Equiano, Jacobs, Douglass, Dunbar, Chesnutt, Harper
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There is little question that prior to the early 1970s African American writers were categorically omitted from twentieth-century academic anthologies of American literature. Numerous commentators in the final quarter-century examined this unfortunate reality and generally ascribed the absence of African American authors in classroom collections...
7. Early-Twentieth-Century Women Writers: Wharton, Cather, Glasgow
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Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Ellen Glasgow were among the last generation of American writers to come of age before the advent of the college-level anthology of American literature. By 1920 each had published acclaimed novels and short stories and had secured their literary reputations. As such, the writings of these early-twentieth-century...
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While the methodology of this study is only one among the many possible ways to investigate the patterns of canon formation, it does offer the advantage of being more empirically verifiable than various more politically charged approaches. For the sake of consistency I have chosen to review only anthologies of American literature designed specifically...
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Publication Year: 2004