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Re-Interpretations of NineteenthCentury AmericanLiterature Jov s.Kasson. Artistic_Voyages:. . E~rope andtheAmerican Imagmatzon mthe Works ofIrving,Allston, Cole, Cooper. andHawthorne.Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982.206pp. Lmden Peach.BritishInfluence on the Birth ofAmericanLiterature.N~w York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.218+ x1pp. Donald A.Ringe.American Gothic: Imagination ~ndRea~oninNin~teenthCenturv Fict10n. Lexmgton: Umvers1ty Press;f Kentucky,1982.215+ viipp. JohnCarlosRowe. Throughthe Custom-House: '\ineteenth-Century American Fiction and :vodern Theory.Baltimore: Johns.Hopkins University Press, 1982.218 + xiiipp. William H.Shurr.Rappaccini's Children: American Writersina Calvinist World. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 1981.165pp. Roderick W.Harvey Adecade ago the scholar interested in nineteenth-century American literature and intellectualhistory would often begin with such works as F.0. Matthiessen's American Renaissance, R. W. B. Lewis' The American Adam and Charles Fiedelson's Symbolism and American Literature. Using a technique that combined literary analysis with the history of ideas, these studies attempted toviewAmerican literature as a field rather than simply as a collection of works by different authors. The scholar writing today might still use this approach, but in the last few years many studies have appeared that offer a greater degree of sophistication in their appraisals of American literature. Scholars have studied politics and literature, history and literature, art and literature, and other fields; most of these books have brought new attention tohithertoneglected areas of American prose and poetry. Five recent critical studies-Linden Peach's BritishInfluence on the Birth of American Literature, DonaldA. Ringe's American Gothic, Joy S. Kasson's Artistic Voyages, William H. Shurr's Rappaccini's Children and John Carlos Rowe's Through theCustom-House-present various innovative approaches that form, in effect, a series of re-interpretations of nineteenth-century American literature inanintellectual context. Thestudies by Peach and Ringe are both influence studies; that is, they areconcerned with how an outside influence affected the development of American literature. This sort of study was more fashionable some years ago, Canadian Review of American St~dies, Volume 15,Number 3, Fall 1984,301-309 302 Roderick WHari:~i before the New Criticism began to stress critical exegesis, but it isstillworthwhile , and can yield valuable insights. Inboth studies, the critical analysis seems secondary to the comparative arguments made; but Peach and Ringedomake considerable reference to literary texts, and often analyze these textsindetail. Peach traces the influence of British writers on the growth of nineteenthcentury American literature. When American literature was emerginginthe times of Emerson and Hawthorne, American writers often used British authors and their ideas as sources. Lacking other comparative studiesofthis phenomenon, Peach explores the "collective influence of Romanticand Victorian authors" (p. xi) on the American literary consciousness oftheperiod. American authors such as Cooper, Melville and Bryant had been aware of works by one another, and all were fairly popular in their own time.But even though the War of 1812strengthened the demand for a native American literature, the American book market was still biased toward Britishbooks, some popular authors being Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Carlyle,Tennyson and Dickens. British periodicals such as the Gentleman's Magazine,Black· wood's Magazine and the Quarterly Review were popular in Americaand were often ransacked for material; and many American writers traveled frequently to Britain and the continent. These factors made it difficultfor such American authors as Hawthorne and Poe to find publishers inAmerica: indeed, the most popular authors in the United States during the previous half-century had been Milton and Pope. Peach concludes that such complica· tions were actually stimulants to American writing, that American writers made "creative use" of British authors, that a "fresh engagement" witha British text often provided a "creative reading" of British works for American writers and readers (pp. 25-28). Wordsworth was a considerable influence on American writing. Because few American writers knew German, they were unaware of the German writers-Hegel, Kant, Herder and Goethe-who had written about nature and who had been used as sources by the English Romantics. Both Bryant and Emerson had read Wordsworth, though at the time the American public still preferred Thomson and Cowper. In "Poets and Poetry of the English Language," Bryant was probably influenced by the ideas in Wordsworth's "Preface to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 301-309
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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