The Forming of a National Literature 18th century: The Age of Politics Follows the Age of Theology (17th c.)

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The Forming of a National Literature
18th century: The Age of Politics Follows the Age of Theology (17th c.)

  • A break with the mother country, resulting in the War of Independence (1775-1783)

  • Practical-political tendency

  • social, political, geographical, literary changes, the influence of Enlightenment

  • multiplicity of religion: Calvinism (Puritans), Quakerism, Deism, Unitarianism.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

  • "father of all Yankees", a self-made man

  • practical instructions to moral education:

    • Poor Richard's Almanac,

    • The Way to Wealth (a collection of proverbs and aphorisms),

    • Autobiography (himself as example)

Major texts of the 18th century: autobiographies, journals, essays, articles, political documents, sermons. Fiction appears towards the end of the century.

Four classics: B. Franklin: The Autobiography; Thomas Jefferson: Notes on the State of Virginia; John Woolman: The Journal; J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur: Letters from an American Farmer

Bestsellers: B. Franklin’s Poor Richard's Almanack (“The Way to Wealth”), Thomas Paine’s Common Sense;

Political texts: B. Franklin: “Rules by which a Great Empire May be Reduced to a Smaller One” (1774); Thomas Paine: Common Sense (1776); Thomas Jefferson: “Summary View of the Rights of British America”; The Declaration of Independence (1776).

Drama: Royall Tyler’s The Contrast (1787);

Poets of transition: Philip Freneau, William Cullen Bryant, Joel Barlow;

Fiction: Hugh Henry Brackenridge: Modern Chivalry (published in parts: 1792-1815)

Charles Brockden Brown: Alcuin: A Dialogue (1798); Wieland; or the Transformation (1798); Ormond (1799); Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker (1799)
Beginnings of 19th century: The Age of Early Republicanism

The forming of an independent national literature – the frontier as a forming factor

National literature:

  • Patriotic task

  • American topic combined with English highbrow style

  • Aim: documentation and symbolism

  • What is English periphery becomes American mainstream

Washington Irving (1783-1859): “The Father of American Literature”

  • Used pseudonyms, Diedrich Knickerbocker, Geoffrey Crayon; First American writer acknowledged abroad, but felt out of place in America as an author. Spent 17 years in Europe

  • The History of New York (1809) by Diedrich Knickerbocker

    • turning fact into fiction; grotesque-humorous piece about the colony-founding Dutch ancestors

  • The Scetch Book (1818)

    • includes he famous stories “Rip van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

    • Peacefulness of Dutch communities contrasted with the noisy bustle of American towns.

    • It is not possible to write in a country where there are no legends or superstitions.

    • Used European sources for tales.

    • elements of the Gothic)

    • international standard, breaking with puritanism, humor, as opposed to:

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)

Ambiguous, critical

New topic: tried to use American sources (esp. history) although there was a “poverty” of materials. Turned to nature and pioneers as a subject

New national hero: Natty Bumppo (Leatherstocking: a scout and hunter; the gentleman of the forest) + the noble savage

Romantic, Rousseauist concept

Major themes: conquest of the wilderness, the destruction of the native population, the formation of a new type of white population

The Deerslayer 1841 - young hero, hunter, helps the white travellers

The Last of the Mohicans 1826 - best structure; war of Indians and whites

The Pathfinder 1840 - middle aged hero, love story

The Pioneers 1823 - aging hero leaves civilisation and goes to wilderness

The Prairie 1827 - 90-year-old trapper dies

The forming of a national hero in American literature takes place in 3 stages:

1. B. Franklin in Autobiography,

2.The Dutchman in Irving's writings,

3. The frontiersman in Cooper's novels.

Cooper's self-contradictory philosophy continues in transcendentalism, trying to solve the problems of wilderness vs. civilization and individual vs. society.

The American Renaissance – the classical literary period in American literature between 1845-1855, when many notable poets, writers appeared on the literary scene (Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, the Transcendentalists, etc.)

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