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Book Reviews 131 but its three major sections, and even chapters within each section, can be read discretely. And Professor Sundquist makes impressive erudition wholly compatible with an engaging expository style. The fascinating and often disturbing narratives that he intetweaves here with illuminating textual analysis make this important scholarly work a pleasure to read. Michael E. Now/in Universityof British Columbia •••••• Michael Davitt Bell. The Problem of American Realism: Studies in the Cultural Historyof a Literary Idea. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993. Pp. 246. Michael Davitt Bell, following such analysts as Mark Selzer and June Howard, notes that the movement of literary realism in American (c. 1865-1914) had no common theory. Indeed, beginning with realism's three major practitionersWilliam Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and Henry James-Bell finds extreme diversity. Howells-the dean of realism-thought that literature, to be "realistic ," should represent the "sunshine aspect of life" inherent in American economic and politic progress. However, Twain's major characters-HuckFinn and Tom Sawyer-were orphans or outcast, and thus were "real" in so far as they reflect their marginalized lives, struggling to keep "free and easy" of Howells's sunshine world which condemned Huck, or to gain the centre by fictionalizing reality for others (as Tom does). James, in "The Art of Fiction," defined the novel as an imagining of an experience that went beyond representation and projected a "consciousness" of values superior to those of a sunshine society. Given this diversity, Bell sees the realists as a cohesive group only in their common concern about the influence and role of contemporary social values in art. Because social values shape "real life" and fiction seeks to represent real life, it followed for Howells that fiction is realistic when a reader responds to recognizable values and their violations. Bell locates Howells's major authenticating values of the "real" in gender: those actions considered real are what males did in response to the real world, such as business. The validation of such values is circular, but not simplistic. Bell finds that, in his youth, Howells read immense amounts of literature instead of participating 132 CanadianReviewof American Studies in boyish activities, and he thought of being an author similar to the "romancers " of the previous generation. However, when Howells recognized his socalled effeminate nature as a "boy-girl," he had to fashion the role of authorship into a masculine voice responsible to the real world, represented by men's doings and beliefs. Endangered by his love for literature, Howells could yet practice literature if the parameters of the "real" were redefined. Howells's complicated sense of art became the problem of realism for an entire generation, and underlies Bell's title. On the one hand, a novelist strove for a "truth" that was real, and so presented readers with characters who were lifelike because they responded to real values. Such a text appeared seamless, and a reader was unconscious of reading "literature"; by this definition, the memoirs of General-President Ulysses S. Grant were Howells's standard for all literature, fiction included. On the other hand, critical readers (such as James) understood that artistic creation went beyond representation of common values, and for them, the style of literary execution was a clue to an author's unique vision. Howells assumed that the critical reader would attain the same truth that the general reader did. But in fact, Bell says, Howells was actually "anti-literary." Following the antiliterary stance of the elder Tolstoy, Howells wrote that "the supreme art in literature has its highest effect in making me set art forever below [a concern for] humanity." Bell concludes that "Howellsian realism ... is less a theoretical idea than an ideological construct" of what to write, what to read, and what to believe (47). Given this context of gender for authorship and reality, Bell indicates how Sarah Orne Jewett could follow some Howellsian devices of realism, such as telling a story "realistically" through a narrative voice capable of several points of view, but uses "the real world of men's doings" to demonstrate the reality of feminine self-consciousness. In sum, Jewett's "local colour" is a feminine inversion of realism. Bell's three...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 131-133
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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