To be specified published in:Landscapes of Realism: Rethinking literary realism in comparative perspectives. Volume I: Mapping realism
Edited by Dirk Göttsche, Rosa Mucignat and Robert Weninger
[Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages XXXII] 2021
► pp. 213–230
Routes into American realism
Realism is usually associated with American literature written after the Civil War. This essay argues that realism was also a significant force during the late-eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. The argument proceeds in three parts. First, the close entanglement of British and American literary culture meant that many of the forces driving the emergence of realism in Britain were imported to the United States. This is evident in the popularity of British sentimental, gothic, and historical novelists and in the appetite for Charles Dickens and William M. Thackeray. The culture of reprinting, which dominated American publishing before 1850, ensured that Americans were more likely to read British rather than American writing. Second, realism established a foothold in American culture in non-novelistic forms, particularly the sketch and short story, which found outlets in a vibrant periodical culture. Third, the essay shows that even writers who self-consciously wrote romances rather than novels – Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville – relied on realist poetic techniques that critics have often underplayed in an effort to emphasize their romanticism. Realism in the United States had a long and diverse history and emerged prior to the major social and cultural changes that marked the period after the 1850s.
Keywords: realism, American literature, romance, transatlantic circulation, reprinting, the gothic, slave narratives, magazines
- 1.Critical contexts
- 2.British realism in late eighteenth-century America
- 3.Realism and the gothic
- 4.James Fenimore Cooper and the historical novel
- 5.Charles Dickens in America
- 6.The prose sketch and American magazine realism
- 7.The realism of slave narratives
- 8.Reassessing the beginnings of realism in American literature
Published online: 21 April 2021
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