The Cambridge History of American Literature: Volume 2, Prose Writing 1820-1865

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Sacvan Bercovitch, Cyrus R. K. Patell
Cambridge University Press, 1994 - 944 pages
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This is the fullest and richest account of the American Renaissance available in any literary history. The narratives in this volume made for a four-fold perspective on literature: social, cultural, intellectual and aesthetic. Michael D. Bell describes the social conditions of the literary vocation that shaped the growth of a professional literature in the United States. Eric Sundquist draws upon broad cultural patterns: his account of the writings of exploration, slavery, and the frontier is an interweaving of disparate voices, outlooks and traditions. Barbara L. Packer's sources come largely from intellectual history: the theological and philosophical controversies that prepared the way for transcendentalism. Jonathan Arac's categories are formalist: he sees the development of antebellum fiction as a dialectic of prose genres, the emergence of a literary mode out of the clash of national, local and personal forms. Together, these four narratives constitute a basic reassessment of American prose-writing between 1820 and 1865. It is an achievement that will remain authoritative for our time and that will set new directions for coming decades in American literary scholarship.

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User Review  - smichaelwilson - LibraryThing

This first volume of the Cambridge History of American Literature (Colonial and Revolutionary Literature, Early National Literature: Part I) covers American literature from it's inception with the ... Read full review


Beginnings of Professionalism I I
Womens Fiction and the Literary Marketplace in the 1850s
Exploration and Empire
The Frontier and American Indians
The Literature of Slavery and African American Culture
Unitarian Beginnings
The Assault on Locke
Carlyle and the Beginnings of American Transcendentalism
The Hope of Reform
The Antislavery Years
Establishing National Narrative
Local Narratives
Personal Narratives
Literary Narrative
Crisis of Literary Narrative and Consolidation

Annus Mirabilis
The Establishment and the Movement
Letters and Social Aims

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About the author (1994)

Sacvan Bercovitch, who is a professor at Harvard University, is probably the most influential critic in American studies today. Tracing the function of rhetoric in American writing from the Puritans through the nineteenth century, Bercovitch has argued that the persuasiveness of rhetoric is in proportion to its capacity to help people act in history. In his books, Bercovitch has revealed the power of American rhetoric as it creates a myth of America that conflates religious and political issues, transforming even the most despairing and critical energies into affirmations of the American way. Among his major arguments is the idea that the rhetoric of America's colonial sermons and histories, founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, and novels of the American Renaissance, all participate in the project of transforming what he calls dissensus into rituals of consensus.

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