- Late-19th-Century Literature
Not one but two biographies of notable figures lead the way this year, while studies of William Dean Howells, Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, and Frank Norris appear at the usual pace. For the first time in quite a while scholarship on Sarah Orne Jewett is also abundant and interesting, and of particular note as well is the amount of scholarship on Native American writers and issues. The year is not so strong as recent others in the appearance of scholarship on war and religion (perhaps the publication of two books on the topic of failure suggests some kind of intellectual reorientation). However, a number of interpretations of local color and regionalism as theoretically grounded approaches to representation have begun to revisit the question of how the two relate to each other. Sprinkled throughout are studies of the period’s visual culture, scientific discourses, and literary representations of emotion and consciousness.
i Realists and Naturalists
The theme of the prodigal son appears, in one fashion or another, in a pair of biographies that reflect significantly on the operations of authorship and the literary marketplace in the period. Most directly and most obviously, this theme helps to organize Gary Scharnhorst’s Julian Hawthorne: The Life of a Prodigal Son (Illinois). Tracing the life and work of the son of a much more famous American author, Scharnhorst has crafted a superb representation, taken from one very specific perspective, [End Page 235] of an entire literary period. Hawthorne was hardly among the best of his generation, but therein lies the point. His dogged pursuit of opportunity and reputation led him to succeed, and at times to fail, as a journalist, author, entrepreneur, and engineer. Hawthorne was witness to the rise of consumer-based periodicals, was familiar with the ins and outs of reputation and value, and was present in the field during the Spanish-American War, possibly even alongside Stephen Crane. Through much of his adult life Hawthorne, Scharnhorst reveals for the first time, also secretly supported two families, having fathered two children with a mistress in addition to the seven his wife had borne. Thus, while not an enviable career by some measures, Hawthorne’s was nevertheless one that touched much of the period’s culture from high to low, and this biography does justice to the breadth of that career.
Paul Sorrentino invokes the prodigal son at the very conclusion of Stephen Crane: A Life of Fire (Belknap). This book is, simply, the definitive biography of a writer who has proven notoriously elusive to biographers. Sorrentino corrects, once and for all, the at-times egregious inventions of Crane’s earlier chroniclers. His biography also tells a deeply compelling story of a conflicted man and artist. Emphasizing the “social, political, religious, intellectual and historical contexts” that define Crane’s life and career, Sorrentino traces the innovations in literary form that Crane made to look so effortless as well as the psychological complexity of a young man who valued his family’s history and yet sought to rebel against tradition. As is the case with Scharnhorst’s biography, this book tells the story of a literary period through the eyes of one of its most centrally compelling figures.
An impressive and original treatment of Crane can be found in Adam Sonstegard’s Artistic Liberties, a book examining the complex representations found in the illustrations that, often at cross-purposes to the written elements, accompanied the original publication of well-known realist texts. The chapter on Crane discusses the author’s interest in visual art and highlights the way he worked with his illustrator to develop images that worked interdependently with his words to discomfit readers in the original Harper’s Illustrated publication of The Monster. Artistic Liberties also includes a previously published chapter on Paul Laurence Dunbar (see AmLS 2010, p. 285) and a coda discussing how Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces and Hagar’s Daughter were both initially published with frontispieces that subtly offered less racist versions of familiar images from famous realist texts. Also on the [End Page 236] subject of illustration are two essays worth mentioning. Molly Knox Leverenz’s “Illustrating The Moonstone in...