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  • Late-19th-Century Literature
  • Terry Oggel

This year's scholarship requires that the structure and commentary of this chapter continue to be arranged according to thematic issues, a departure initiated last year from the long-held method of clustering scholarship around certain writers. The chapter still covers realism and naturalism, but those literary movements no longer dominate scholarly writing about the period. More pressing are matters of ethnicity and gender and questions about the ways in which regional and national voices are related and how they interact. Truth be told, even these divisions could be merged, since much scholarship—perhaps most of it—examines a matrix of subjects, including ethnicity/race, gender, class, emerging capitalism, and region. To accommodate these blendings, some of last year's categories have been dropped, some refined. Two categories have been retained. These demarcations are false if taken literally, of course. A prime example is the new category, Social Thought, as though social thought were not present in every piece reported on. As was true last year, it has been neither possible nor desirable to describe this year's scholarship in mutually exclusive terms. Healthy crossbreeding exists. More so than a decade ago, this interdisciplinary framework characterizes our scholarship. Indeed, to go "beyond the binary" is everyone's desire; some sort of hybrid, mentioned in a dozen works this year, seems to be the common answer, though if going beyond the binary is even possible, androgyny would be the better goal.

Symptomatic of these changes is the writer most studied this year: Charles Chesnutt. In AmLS a decade ago, Chesnutt had one entry next to his name (a passing mention in a German work reviewed in the [End Page 259] chapter on foreign scholarship). Close behind Chesnutt are Kate Chopin and Sarah Orne Jewett, both of whom received significant coverage in AmLS 1989. Considerable attention is being paid to some writers who have received virtually no study until the past few years, especially Frances Harper, who is emerging as a major figure—novelist, orator, social reformer. Some other writers, like George Washington Cable, are receiving fresh, enthusiastic examinations. James Whitcomb Riley experienced a regular boomlet of attention, with a biography and an article on him and significant references to him in perhaps a dozen other works.

This reappraisal of the period has been a decade and more in the making, so these shifts are appropriate, and their origin in the groundbreaking criticism and scholarship of recent years is clear. One work stands out as having had an especially large impact on the year's scholarship. Eric Sundquist's To Wake the Nations (see AmLS 1993, passim) is cited in work after work, contributing deeply to the year's emphases on ethnicity, on the law, particularly Plessy v. Ferguson and other Supreme Court cases, on readership and the marketplace, and on language. I would estimate that To Wake is cited in one-fourth of the 90 or so items reported on.

The quality of the scholarship overall does not flag. One sparkling essay teases us into new thinking about positivism; examinations of literary texts in the light of art history, architecture, law, and the visual arts redirect our study of several writers; one understated evocation of male intimacy with women is rare in several ways; a panoramic study pushes us to think again about dialect; two volumes crammed with important materials on Chesnutt will affect research and teaching for a generation and longer. The list goes on. Standards are so high that work which is anything less than the best seems unfairly vulnerable to criticism. It was an exciting year.

i Managing Ethnicity

It has taken nearly a century, but recent years have seen an explosion in the publication of Charles W. Chesnutt's writings. He would be proud and no doubt would feel vindicated at last. Charles W. Chesnutt: Essays and Speeches (Stanford) is a handsome and weighty volume containing the entirety of Chesnutt's known nonfictional evorts—77 pieces in all (speeches seem to dominate), arranged chronologically from 1881 to the early 1930s, including four undated items. Of these, 38 have not seen print till now. This scholarly edition wears its learning lightly but...


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