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American Night

The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War

Alan M. Wald

Publication Year: 2012

American Night, the final volume of an unprecedented trilogy, brings Alan Wald's multigenerational history of Communist writers to a poignant climax. Using new research to explore the intimate lives of novelists, poets, and critics during the Cold War, Wa

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi-xviii

The ingenuity of literary history does not belong to documents but to the queries posed: To what extent is a “Communist presence” to be found in the mainstream as well as in the tributaries of U.S. letters after the mid- 1940s? What are the criteria for measuring the magnitude and merit of this presence...

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Introduction: Late Antifascism

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pp. 1-21

Sidney Greenspan (1915–44) was a small, skinny, myopic Jew with sloping shoulders, a prominent nose, and thin brown hair. He died brutally in Carano, Italy, during World War II’s “Operation Shingle.” His death occurred two days after Allied forces carried out an amphibious landing on Anzio Beach...

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1. Postwar

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pp. 22-48

In March 1944, as World War II peaked ferociously in Europe, the New York Times Book Review gently registered the premonitory rumblings of a new chapter in the history of the novel in the United States. Dangling Man, the first published volume of fiction by future Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow...

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2. Scenes from a Class Struggle

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pp. 49-83

In The Decay of Living (1889), Oscar Wilde famously reversed mimesis: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Pro-Communist writers in the postwar years, fashioning both their art and literary criticism in a tradition variously identified as proletarian literature, socialist realism, democratic...

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3. The Cult of Reason

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pp. 84-116

The world the novel makes proposes its own causality and contingency. To treat post–World War II Marxist fiction solely as a declension narrative, due to the ultimate disaster of the Communist movement in 1956, is to miss one of U.S. culture’s most significant streams. Customary accounts of the “Long...

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4. The “Homintern” Reconsidered

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pp. 117-149

By 1951, much of the leadership of the Communist Party was convinced of the inescapability of a war between the Soviet Union and the United States. For that reason, instructions were sent from the Communist Party’s national office to district organizers such as Junius Irving Scales (1920–2002), who...

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5. Lonely Crusaders, Part I

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pp. 150-178

Life on the postwar Left for African American writers was overflowing with exiles among exiles. Willard Motley (1909–65), after publishing We Fished All Night (1951), his novel of Progressives, Communists, and the labor movement in late 1940s Chicago, withdrew to Mexico for the remainder of his life. James...

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6. Lonely Crusaders, Part II

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pp. 179-215

Ann Petry’s The Narrows unveils a panorama of Marxist stasis, closer to suspended animation than hypersleep. The 1953 novel, depicting events from October 1951 to the spring of 1952, bequeaths a social vision like that in Melville’s Moby Dick, according to the analysis published that same year by...

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7. Jews without Judaism

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pp. 216-249

The record of Jewish American cultural achievement in the postwar decades is extensive and irregular. Many of the emerging writers in the era, now treated as fomenting a “Jewish American Renaissance,” had a background in Marxism, usually Communism, by personal or family association. What is...

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8. Off Modernity’s Grid

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pp. 250-291

On the bitterly cold morning of 8 February 1954, the year that the bipartisan Communist Control Act was passed by Congress, the thirty-three-year-old Marxist poet Aaron Kramer (1921–97) unfolded his New York City newspaper to lurid banner headlines about a sensational double murder. Maxwell...

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Conclusion: The Sense of an Ending

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pp. 292-318

It would be simpler if the end of the Communist literary tradition happened quickly, if the demise of the authority of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party over culture suddenly gave rise to liberating impulses producing a massive prison break, a cultural Prague Spring. Yet the afterlife of Literary...

A Note on Methodology

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pp. 319-324


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pp. 325-390


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pp. 391-395


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pp. 397-412

E-ISBN-13: 9781469601502
E-ISBN-10: 1469601508
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835869
Print-ISBN-10: 0807835862

Page Count: 432
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Communism and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Socialism and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Right and left (Political science) in literature.
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