- Fiction: 1900 to the 1930s
In conjunction with the centenary of World War I, scholars have been focusing on fiction about the war, including the home front and the postwar world, as well as its influence on modernism, with such authors as Kay Boyle, Edna Ferber, Zane Grey, and the lesser-known William March, Thomas Boyd, and Evelyn Scott of particular interest.
Two scholars explore the form of the novel from different perspectives, using numerous texts from the early 20th century. Michael Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography (Harvard) examines the novel in English, creating dialogues among authors and books, and sometimes among authors of different time periods. For example, Schmidt pairs Aphra Behn and Zora Neale Hurston in their presentations of America and puts together Willa Cather, Sarah Orne Jewett, Sherwood Anderson, and Gertrude Stein to discuss the blurring of form. Rather than having an overarching thesis, Schmidt’s intention is to show how the novel as a genre has survived over the ages. Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel sets out a broad interrogation of the topic, with the mid-19th century as his starting point. He discusses how the notion has changed over time, as ideas about American national identity also have changed. Through the use of case studies, ranging from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, plus shorter discussions of over a hundred other novels, Buell shows “how to imagine those [End Page 259] books taking shape within broader contexts of shifting artistic practice and public priorities.”
With Author under Sail: The Imagination of Jack London, 1893–1902 (Nebraska) Jay Williams has produced what is at least the fourth biography of the writer in less than five years. Williams limits his focus to the period between London’s first publication, a short story appearing in the San Francisco Call, and the year he signed a book contract with publisher George Brett of Macmillan. The first volume of a proposed two-volume study, Author under Sail focuses on how London experienced the conflicted act of writing about his own work. Williams organizes his analysis around six contexts—“bohemianism and socialism, spiritualism and photography, a Pacific consciousness, and the world of publishing”—which he connects to three modes of authorship as London conceived them (“craftsman, poet, and genius”) and to six manifestations of authorial identity (“locale, mobility, documentation, continuous production, dual publication, and publicness”). This organization sometimes overly complicates our understanding of London’s “authorial identity in the world of his texts.”
John Lennon, “The Cramped Boxcar: Jack London and Kelly’s Industrial Army,” pp. 59–84 in Boxcar Politics, discusses London as an individual who reveled in being a professional hobo. Although London lived the life of a hobo for only six months when he was 18 and later claimed that these adventures turned him toward socialism, at the time his aim was more Darwinian, to be the best of the hobos, even when he was traveling with unemployed workers of Kelly’s Industrial Army. Lilian Carswell also invokes Charles Darwin in “‘The Power of Choice’: Darwinian Concepts of Animal Mind in Jack London’s Dog Stories,” pp. 302–32 in America’s Darwin, reading London’s animal stories, primarily The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and “Brown Wolf,” through the lens of Darwin’s notions about the reasoning powers of animals. Although critics at the time complained about his sentimentalizing of dogs’ behavior, London’s presentation of “animals’ capacity for autonomy and choice” suggests that animals should have the right to self-determination.
In “Mastering the Machine: Technology and the Racial Logic of Jack London’s Asia,” pp. 45–85 in The Buddha in the Machine, R. John Williams examines London’s raging against the machine of modern [End Page 260] technology in such works as The Iron Heel, Martin Eden, and “A Curious Fragment” and connects this opposition to biological fears of racial difference with the peoples of Asia/Pacific. In his reporting on the...