- Late-19th-Century Literature
Although traditional literary methods endure and although canonical writers are still studied, the shift to lesser-known works and neglected authors continues, reflecting an interest in the cultural function of literature and in an expansion of the literary canon that highlights current social issues. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as the subject of more scholarly studies recently than any other late-19th-century American author, seems to be at the center of this revising canon, and study of her works continues strong. Now Charles Chesnutt and Louisa May Alcott have joined her, exemplifying this interest in authors noteworthy for addressing social topics of their time but also relevant today—most notably race and gender. Although literature with a social purpose is studied more than art for art's sake, the works that explore or expose cultural issues are diverse, and many recent studies are based on sound archival research. Again, nowhere is this trend more obvious than in the field of African American literature and in the examination of young-adult literature, areas in which literary scholars continue to search for understanding of the present through the past.
i Realists and Naturalists
Two international publications assess the state of realism and naturalism, both finding a shifting landscape. The ambiguously titled Revisionist Approaches to American Realism and Naturalism, ed. Jutta Ernst et al. (Heidelberg: Winter), offers 11 essays that in fact reject "revisionist" [End Page 197] criticism insofar as it bypasses traditional literary methods, treating realism and naturalism, for example, as philosophically simplistic, as misogynistic, or as racist. Of the essays relevant to this period in American literature, such is the position of Winfried Fluck's "Misrecognition, Symptomatic Realism, Multicultural Realism, Cultural Capital Realism: Revisionist Narratives about the American Realist Tradition" (pp. 1–34), which concludes that recent criticism has employed post-structural theories and cultural criticism to misinterpret or dismiss realism. In a prerevisionist vein Stefan L. Brandt's "'Riddles of the Painful Earth': Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and the Aesthetics of the Commonplace" (pp. 35–46) argues that Twain and Howells created an aesthetic that could develop democratic themes by showing the mystery of ordinary life. And Stephanie Metz's "Sour Apples: Lost Girls, Gothic Naturalism, and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman" (pp. 47–72) broadens the definition of naturalism by moving beyond Freeman's regionalism, thus analyzing her work as gothic naturalism. On the other hand, Eva Boesenberg's "Gold and Genocide: Rethinking Money and Gender in Naturalism Through Settler Colonialism" (pp. 97–116) seems to dismiss naturalist narratives, such as Frank Norris's McTeague, as contributing to a sexist, racist modernism.
In "Re-visioning American Literary Naturalism" (Canadian Review of American Studies [CRevAS] 48: 171–90) Marc Egnal also dismisses naturalism as the domain of several white, male writers or as confined to a narrow period (1893–1913), focusing instead on scientific beliefs and sociological conditions from the fin-de-siècle period, thus opening up the canon. And American Literary History and the Turn Toward Modernity, ed. Melanie V. Dawson and Meredith L. Goldsmith (Florida), by including essays on neglected authors who transformed literary practices over a long period (1880–1930), also calls into question the definitions of realism and naturalism by describing a slow, recursive movement toward American modernism. For example, Karin L. Hooks's "'It Is Difficult to Disengage a Single Thread from the Living Web of a Nation's Literature': Sarah Piatt and the Construction of Literary History" (pp. 5–63) rediscovers Piatt's poems in A Library of American Literature (1889), demonstrating her significance as a poet before academic canonization began in the early 20th century. Focusing on modern uses of color, Nicholas Gaskill's Chromographica: American Literature and the Modernization of Color (Minnesota) is unique in showing how modern colors and color theory influenced writers such as Gilman, Stephen Crane, and Chesnutt [End Page 198] who experimented with descriptive language and theories of perception. One chapter focuses on Gilman's use of abstraction and another on the "lurid realism" of Crane.
This year's combined issue of Stephen Crane Studies (23) features five articles that will aid scholars. Dan Graham's "Keeping War at a Distance: Good...