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190 / the comforts of romanticism probably not representative of a cross-section of the thousands of people who read Hugh Wynne at the turn of the century. But their responses, and the fact that they were sustained enough to prompt correspondence , can be read as symptomatic of a particular nexus of reading, in which generic divisions were simultaneously porous and politically very important. In April 1898, apropos of nothing, the New York Times Book Review published a letter from “Frederica Edmunds” of Trenton, New Jersey. Admitting that her review was “somewhat belated,” Edmunds contradicted the Times review by complaining first that Hugh Wynne contained too much period detail—“why give us every alley and footpath of old Philadelphia?”—and then that some additional detail could have been lavished on the “great events of the day.” “It is true this is realistic treatment, but the reader is not satisfied without some artistic perspective , or the compensating conviction that the characters are working out some strong plot of their own.” After praising the character drawings, the letter closes with a lament that “the author has told us no story, that the plot possesses no cumulative interest, and is continually impeded by the dragging in, without due warrant, of early Philadelphia celebrities of whose patriotic virtues we are quite ready to hear when not thrust upon us as romance.”24 The novel, it seems, has offered its historicity in all the wrong places for this reader, and in approximating a realist mode it has become considerably less satisfying. The intermodal text, in other words, fails to satisfy either expectation. After this letter, Hugh Wynne is absent from the New York Times Book Review pages until November 1899. The occasion for its return is the publication and review of Winston Churchill’s Revolutionary War novel, Richard Carvel. In a provocative letter, a reader signed “Similia Similibus ” details a number of significant plot parallels between the Churchill and Mitchell novels. “Hugh had an always present fairy aunt—Richard’s grandfather was his protecting angel. In his youth Hugh’s aunt presented him with a mare, ‘Lucy,’ fleet as the wind, and he became a masterful rider, which served him well later in the war—Richard’s grandfather brought him ‘Firefly,’ a mare of lively disposition, and he learned to ride like a centaur, which afterward served him very well when challenged to ride the wild stallion on the London streets.”25 Similia Similibus continues with the comparison for some time, then registers regret that she had read Carvel first, rather than its “prototype.” Once this gauntlet is thrown, readers are eager to weigh in on the possibility that Churchill has engaged in unethical borrowing. “Charles H. Young” ups the ante the comforts of romanticism / 191 by citing Thackeray’s Virginians as another source text for Carvel, and a poorly executed one at that. To any of these texts, Young vastly prefers Paul Leicester Ford’s Janice Meredith, which “is original; it has more life; it is more picturesque than a chromo and strong enough for a Turner oil painting.” If its heroine is silly, “she has the merit of being silly throughout , and, according to accepted literary tenets, all heroines of that period in America seem to have been silly.”26 In the same issue, “Desdichado” offers the blanket critique that “[a] slight sense of proportion would hardly hurt some of these writers, and the lack of it is perhaps what gives the strongest ground to enemies of fiction in general.”27 The following week, the Book Review editors published a clarification that may well have been prompted by a flurry of letters on the plagiarism controversy. “It seems necessary to emphasize the point that ‘Richard Carvel’ was conceived, mapped out, and mostly written several years before ‘Hugh Wynne’ was published.”28 This seems an adequate refutation, and a clear one; when the editors go on to try and argue for the necessary overlaps between works that deal with the same historical epoch, they get into trouble. Certainly, the two novels could mark similar historical landmarks, like Lexington and Yorktown, but these were not the elements that Similia Similibus and Young delineated. What the editors do not want to entertain is the highly formulaic quality of the Revolutionary War novel; they cannot validate “mechanical fiction” in their pages. To their aid comes “L.,” whose letter on 23 December offers several examples of other literary “coincidences,” plot resemblances between Quo Vadis and The Last Days of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781439906699
Related ISBN
9781439906682
MARC Record
OCLC
794700744
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-08
Language
English
Open Access
No
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