Lost in the Customhouse
Authorship in the American Renaissance
Publication Year: 1993
Published by: University of Iowa Press
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The American Renaissance is defined here as commencing with the magnum opus of Washington Irving and extending to the first (and best) novel of Theodore Dreiser in 1900. I have given special attention to the word "Renaissance" as it denotes rebirth and connotes re-awakening.
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THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE : PART ONE
1. Irvings Paradigm
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Probably the most significant and yet paradoxical fact about American literature is that it begins in the middle of its official history and in the work of a dreamer, Washington Irving. Nothing before him in the brooding spirit of the Colonial writers or in the rational wisdom of the eighteenth century quite anticipates The Sketch Book (1819-20) as America's first acknowledged contribution to world literature as well...
2. Hawthorne's Awakening in the Customhouse
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It is appropriate that the author of America's next "Sketch Book" is "A DECAPITATED SURVEYOR" another dreamer who loses his head in the abyss of the imagination. In recounting the story of his removal from the Salem Custom House, Nathaniel...
3. Melville's High on the Seas
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If telling the primordial truth was the result of Hawthorne's dream in The Scarlet Letter, Herman Melville in Moby-Dick probably realized that such "truth" was too deep to tell completely...
4. Poe's Voyage from Edgartown
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In Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative ofArthur Gordon Pym (1838) it is difficult to know whether the tale has a proper ending. Indeed, its title reflects palindromically back on its author, whose three-part name is euphonically similar to the name of his character. The "Note" at the close announces "the late sudden and distressing death of Mr. Pym"...
5. Emerson's Beautiful Estate
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Proper endings aside, Ralph Waldo Emerson is reported to have uttered on his deathbed, "Oh that beautiful boy."
6. Thoreau's Quarrel with Emerson
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On his deathbed Henry David Thoreau is alleged to have said that he had no quarrel with God. The story is familiar to students of Thoreau, often quoted by professors to characterize Thoreau's sense of humor...
THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE : PART TWO
7. Whitman's Idea of Women
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In an age when physicians rejoiced that neither the "emancipated" woman nor the prostitute "propagates her kind," Walt Whitman claimed that Leaves of Grass was...
8. Twain's Cigar-Store Indians
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By the time Whitman's idea of women had become a memory instead of a dream, on the occasion of the poet's seventieth birthday party organized by his Camden disciples, Mark Twain wrote him: "You...
9. Dickinson's Unpublished Canon
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Just as we have endeavored to bring Twain's view of black Americans into line with the utopian consciousness of our twentieth-century desires, so have we sought to update Emily Dickinson...
10. Henry James's Pearl at a Great Price
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In The Portrait of a Lady (1881) Henry James compares Gilbert Osmond's daughter Pansy to a "sheet of blank paper-the ideal jeune fille of foreign...
11. Chopin's Twenty-Ninth Bather
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It almost goes without saying that Henry James could never have written The Awakening (1899). The nearest he probably came to creating a character as corporeal as Kate Chopin's Edna Pontellier...
12. Dreiser's Novel About a Nun
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In this final chapter on authorship in the American Renaissance as extended to 1900 and to Sister Carrie, I want to begin with two assertions that run counter to the critical consensus about Theodore Dreiser's work.
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During the fall of 1989, soon after drafting the Dickinson chapter in this book, I had the opportunity of teaching as a Fulbright lecturer at La Sorbonne Nouvelle (Universite de Paris-III) and-because Walt...
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Page Count: 268
Publication Year: 1993