Readings at the Edge of Literature

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University of Chicago Press, 2002 - 246 pages
Myra Jehlen's aim in these essays is to read for what she calls the edge of literature: the point at which writing seems unable to say more, which is also, for Jehlen, the threshold of the real. It is here, she argues, that the central paradoxes of the American project become clear—self-reliance and responsibility, universal equality and the pursuit of empire, writing from the heart and representing shared values and ideas. Developing these paradoxes to their utmost tension, American writers often produce penetrating critiques of American society without puncturing its basic myths. For instance, Mark Twain's Puddn'head Wilson begins as a slashing satire of racism, only to conclude by demonstrating that even an invisible portion of black blood can make a man a murderer.

Throughout these essays Jehlen demonstrates the crucial role that the process of writing itself plays in unfolding these paradoxes, whether in the form of novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Virginia Woolf; the histories of Captain John Smith; or even a work of architecture, such as the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

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The Making of a Good American
A MonarchoAnarchist in Revolutionary America
3 The Novel and the Middle Class in America
Domesticity versus Slavery in Uncle Toms Cabin
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Classic American Literature
Race and Sex in Puddnhead Wilson
7 Archimedes and the Paradox of Feminist Criticism
8 Why Did the European Cross the Ocean?
The Underdetermined John Smith
What We Learn from A True and Exact History of Barbadoes
Virginia Woolfs The Voyage Out
12 Guggenheim in Bilbao

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About the author (2002)

Myra Jehlen is the Board of Governors Professor of Literature at Rutgers University. She is the author of American Incarnation: The Individual, the Nation, and the Continent, among others, and coeditor of The English Literatures of America, 1500-1800.

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