Europe was in one sense an awakening from the long slumber of the Dark Ages. What had been a stagnant, even backsliding kind of society re-invested in the promise of material and spiritual gain. There was the sincerely held belief that humanity was making progress towards a noble summit of perfect existence. How this rebirth – for it literally means rebirth – came to fruition is a matter of debate among historians. What cannot be debated is that humanity took an astounding leap forward after hundreds of years of drift. The fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries in Europe witnessed a deliberate break with feudal modes of living. Aristocratic landowners lost their hegemony over the lower classes, as opportunities for growth and enrichment beckoned from the swelling urban centers. In Italy, for example, educated citizens rediscovered the grace and power of their classical, pagan traditions. Greek and Roman mythologies and philosophies served as the inspirational material for a new wave of artistic creation. Intellectuals adopted a line of thought known as “humanism,” in which mankind was believed capable of earthly perfection beyond what had ever been imagined before. The overwhelming spirit of the times was optimism, an unquenchable belief that life was improving for the first time in anyone’s memory. Indeed, the specter of the Dark Ages and the Black Death were still very fresh in people’s minds, and the promise of moving forward and away from such horrors was wholeheartedly welcome.
Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
Thomas Companion (1567-1620)
John Donne (1572-1631)
Ben Johnson (1572-1637)
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
John Milton (1608-1674)
Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)
Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586)
Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder (1503-1542)
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Mary Wroth(ca. 1587- ca. 1651)
sometimes referred to as the Age of Reason, was a confluence of ideas and activities that took place throughout the eighteenth century in Western Europe, England, and the American colonies. Scientific rationalism, exemplified by the scientific method, was the hallmark of everything related to it. Following close on the heels of the Renaissance, its thinkers believed that the advances of science and industry heralded a new age of egalitarianism and progress for humankind. More goods were being produced for less money, people were traveling more, and the chances for the upwardly mobile to actually change their station in life were significantly improving. At the same time, many voices were expressing sharp criticism of some time-honored cultural institutions. The Church, in particular, was singled out as stymieing the forward march of human reason. Many intellectuals of the this practiced a variety of Deism, which is a rejection of organized, doctrinal religion in favor of a more personal and spiritual kind of faith. For the first time in recorded Western history, the hegemony of political and religious leaders was weakened to the point that citizens had little to fear in making their opinions known. Criticism was the order of the day, an
William Congrave (1670-1729)
Denis Detorit (1713-1784)
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
John Locke (1632-1704)
Immanuael Kant (1724-1804)
Sir Isaac Newton(1642-1727)
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Pope, Alexander (1688-1744)
Jean-Jacques Rousau (1712-1778)
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Mary Wollstencraft (Mary Shelley’s mother) (1759-1797)
Movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centurie
-large network of sometimes competing philosophies, agendas, and points of interest.
-In England, it had its greatest influence from the end of the eighteenth century up through about 1870.
-In America, the Movement was slightly delayed and modulated, holding sway over arts and letters from roughly 1830 up to the Civil War.
-American literature championed the novel as the most fitting genre for its exposition. I
-First and foremost, it is concerned with the individual more than with society
-“Melancholy” was quite the buzzword for these poets, and altered states of consciousness were often sought after in order to enhance one’s creative potential.
-There was a coincident downgrading of the importance and power of reason, clearly a reaction against the Enlightenment mode of thinking.
-English society was undergoing the most severe paradigm shifts it had seen in living memory.
-The response of many early poets was to yearn for an idealized, simpler past. In particular, these English poets had a strong connection with medievalism and mythology.
-clearly mystical quality to its writing that sets it apart from other literary periods. Of course, not every such poet or novelist displayed all, or even most of these traits all the time.
-On the formal level, it witnessed a steady loosening of the rules of artistic expression that were
Authors of Romanticism
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)
Mary Shelley (1797-1851)
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
William Woodsworth (1770-1850)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Lord Byron (1788-1824)
John Keats (1795-1821)
William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
James Fenimore (1789-1851)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Washington Irving (1783-1859)
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)
John Greenleaf Whitterare (1807-1892)
-early to mid-nineteenth century-took root in America and evolved into a predominantly literary expression. The adherents to Transcendentalism believed that knowledge could be arrived at not just through the senses, but through intuition and contemplation of the internal spirit. As such, they professed skepticism of all established religions, believing that Divinity resided in the individual, and the mediation of a church was cumbersome to achieving enlightenment. The genesis of the movement can be accurately traced to 1836 and the first gathering of the Transcendental Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The father of the movement, an appellation he probably did not relish, was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Other prominent contributors included Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, William Henry Channing, and George Ripley. In the grand scheme, the Transcendentalist’s moment on the literary stage was decidedly brief. With Fuller’s death in 1850, one of the movement’s great advocates was silenced. Emerson lacked the vitality and desire to follow in her path. Though their hold on the public imagination was short-lived, the long-lasting influence that the Transcendentalists had on American literature cannot be denied. Even the philosophy’s critics were forced to acknowledge the effects that the Transcendental Movement had on the world, particularly the American experience of the world. For Transcendentalism was a distinctly American expression, with concerns and ideals that perhaps did not fully translate in England or Continental Europe. The philosophy was inexorably bound together with American’s expansionist impulse, as well as the troubling question of slavery and women’s place in society. A philosophical-literary movement cannot solve such problems, but it can provide the vocabulary to discuss them reasonably.
Authors of Transcendentalism
Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1803-1882)
Thoreau, Henry David (1817-1862)
Fuller, Margaret (1810-1850)
Channing, William Henry (1810-1884)
Ripley, George (1802-1880)
Dickinson, Emily (1830-1886)
Whitman, Walt (1819-1892)
Very, Jones (1813-1880)
Alcott, Amos Bronson (1799-1888)
Francis, Convers (1795-1863)
Peabody, Elizabeth (1804-1894)
Hedge, Frederick Henry (1805-1890)
Defining such literature in any satisfactory and comprehensive manner has proven troublesome for critics ever since the nineteenth century came to a close. The movement roughly comprises the years from 1830 to 1900, though there is ample disagreement regarding even this simple point. The name given to the period is borrowed from the royal matriarch of England, Queen Victoria, who sat on throne from 1837 to 1901. One has difficulty determining with any accuracy where the Romantic Movement of the early nineteenth century leaves off and the Victorian Period begins because these traditions have so many aspects in common. Likewise, identifying the point where Victorianism gives way completely to Modernism is no easy task. Literary periods are never the discrete, self-contained realms which the anthologies so suggest. Rather, a literary period more closely resembles a rope that is frayed at both ends. Many threads make up the rope and work together to form the whole artistic and cultural milieu. The Victorian writers exhibited some well-established habits from previous eras, while at the same time pushing arts and letters in new and interesting directions. Indeed, some of the later Victorian novelists and poets are nearly indistinguishable from the Modernists who followed shortly thereafter. In spite of the uncertainty of terminology, there are some concrete statements that one can make regarding the nature of Victorian literature, and the intellectual world which nurtured that literature.
Victorian period writers
Arnold, Matthew (1822-1888)
Brontë, Charlotte (1816-1855)
Brontë, Emily (1818-1848)
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861)
Browning, Robert (1812-1889)
Carroll, Lewis (1832-1898)
Carlyle, Thomas (1795-1881)
Dickens, Charles (1812-1870)
Doyle, Arthur Conan (1859-1930)
Eliot, George (1819-1880)
Hardy, Thomas (1840-1928)
Hopkins, Gerard Manley (1844-1889)
Housman, A. E. (1859-1936)
Kipling, Rudyard (1865-1936)
Landon, Letitia Elizabeth (1802-1838)
Rossetti, Christina (1830-1894)
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828-1882)
Stevenson, Robert Louis (1850-1894)
Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1837-1909)
Tennyson, Alfred (Lord) (1809-1892)
Thackeray, William Makepeace (1811-1863)
Wells, H.G. (1866-1946)
Wilde, Oscar (1854-1900)
Yeats, William Butler (1865-1939)
The dominant paradigm in novel writing during the second half of the nineteenth century was no longer the Romantic idealism of the earlier part of the century. What took hold among the great novelists in Europe and America was a new approach to character and subject matter, a school of thought which later came to be known as this. On one level, it is precisely what it sounds like. It is attention to detail, and an effort to replicate the true nature of reality in a way that novelists had never attempted. There is the belief that the novel’s function is simply to report what happens, without comment or judgment. Seemingly inconsequential elements gain the attention of the novel functioning in the realist mode. From Henry James, for example, one gets a sense of being there in the moment, as a dense fabric of minute details and observations is constructed. This change in style meant that some of the traditional expectations about the novel’s form had to be pushed aside. In contrast to what came before, the realistic novel rests upon the strengths of its characters rather than plot or turn of phrase. The characters that the realistic school of novelists produced are some of the most famous in literary history, from James’s Daisy Miller to Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov. They are psychologically complicated, multifaceted, and with conflicting impulses and motivations that very nearly replicate the daily tribulations of being human.
Authors of realism
de Balzac, Honoré (1799-1850)
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (1821-1881)
Eliot, George (1819-1880)
Flaubert, Gustave (1821-1880)
Howells, William Dean (1837-1920)
James, Henry (1843-1916)
Twain, Mark (1835-1910)
Wharton, Edith (1862-1937)
The logical outgrowth of literary Realism was the point of view known as this. This literary movement, like its predecessor, found expression almost exclusively within the novel. It also found its greatest number of practitioners in America shortly before and after the turn of the twentieth century. It sought to go further and be more explanatory than Realism by identifying the underlying causes for a person’s actions or beliefs. The thinking was that certain factors, such as heredity and social conditions, were unavoidable determinants in one’s life. A poor immigrant could not escape their life of poverty because their preconditions were the only formative aspects in his or her existence that mattered. It almost entirely dispensed with the notion of free will, or at least a free will capable of enacting real change in life’s circumstances. The theories of Charles Darwin are often identified as playing a role in the development of this; however, such a relationship does not stand up to investigative rigor. Darwin never applied his theories to human social behavior, and in doing so many authors seriously abused the actual science. There was in the late nineteenth century a fashion in sociology to apply evolutionary theory to human social woes. This line of thinking came to be knows as Social Darwinism, and today is recognized as the systematized, scientific racism that it is. More than a few atrocities in world history were perpetrated by those who misguidedly applied Darwinism to the social realm. for better or worse, it is in some respects a form of Social Darwinism played out in fiction
Writers of Naturalism
Wharton, Edith (1862-1937)
Norris, Frank (1870-1902)
Zola, Emile (1840-1902)
Crane, Stephen (1871-1900)
Dreiser, Theodore (1871-1945)
Cahan, Abraham (1860-1951)
Glasgow, Ellen (1873-1945)
Phillips, David Graham (1867-1922)
London, Jack (1876-1916)
Writers of Modernism
The Period in English Literature occupied the years from shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century through roughly 1965. In broad terms, the period was marked by sudden and unexpected breaks with traditional ways of viewing and interacting with the world. Experimentation and individualism became virtues, where in the past they were often heartily discouraged. It was set in motion, in one sense, through a series of cultural shocks. The first of these great shocks was the Great War, which ravaged Europe from 1914 through 1918, known now as World War One. At the time, this “War to End All Wars” was looked upon with such ghastly horror that many people simply could not imagine what the world seemed to be plunging towards. The first hints of that particular way of thinking called this stretch back into the nineteenth century. As literary periods go, it displays a relatively strong sense of cohesion and similarity across genres and locales. Furthermore, writers who adopted this point of view often did so quite deliberately and self-consciously. Indeed, a central preoccupation of it is with the inner self and consciousness. In contrast to the Romantic world view, this one cares rather little for Nature, Being, or the overarching structures of history. Instead of progress and growth, this intelligentsia sees decay and a growing alienation of the individual. The machinery of this society is perceived as impersonal, capitalist, and antagonistic to the artistic impulse. War most certainly had a great deal of influence on such ways of approaching the world. Two World Wars in the span of a generation effectively shell-shocked all of Western civilization.
Writers of Modernism
Bishop, Elizabeth (1911-1979)
Conrad, Joseph (1857-1924)
Doolittle, Hilda (1886-1961)
Eliot, Thomas Stearns (1888-1965)
Faulkner, William (1897-1962)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott (1896-1940)
Hemingway, Ernest (1899-1961)
Hughes, Langston (1902-1967)
James, Henry (1843-1916)
Lawrence, D. H. (1885-1930)
Lowell, Amy (1874-1925)
Pound, Ezra (1885-1972)
Shaw, George Bernard (1856-1950)
Stevens, Wallace (1879-1955)
Williams, Tennessee (1882-1941)
Woolf, Virginia (1882-1941)
Yeats, William Butler (1865-1939)
The Bloomsbury Group
It was a small, informal association of artists and intellectuals who lived and worked in this area of central London. Most prominent of these was novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf. In all, only about a dozen people at any one time could have called themselves members of the group. Beginning shortly before 1910, they gathered at irregular intervals for conversation, companionship, and the refueling of creative energy. The members of it would more or less maintain allegiance to their mutual philosophy of an ideal society, even through a World War and three decades of tectonic shifts in the political climate. They had no codified agenda or mission. They were not political in the ordinary sense of the word. Most importantly, there was no application or initiation required to become a member. Bloomsbury was an informal hodgepodge of intellectual friends, and one either merited inclusion to that circle or one did not. No rules of order, as in a committee, governed the way in which they managed their interactions. Instead, they held impromptu dinners and gatherings where any number of topics was the subject of serious discussion and contemplation. These intellectual exchanges served as the main influence on later work by individual members. By no means were all members in full agreement on all subjects. Some of their most stimulating ideas and writings were borne out of internal disagreement and strife. One can safely say that each member of it was leftist in his or her politics, although as individuals they exp
Authors of the Bloomsbury Group
Woolf, Virginia (1882-1941)
Forster, E. M. (1879-1970)
Strachey, Giles Lytton (1880-1932)
Bell, Clive (1881-1964)
Keynes, John Maynard (1883-1946)
Fry, Roger (1866-1934)
Grant, Duncan (1885-1978)
MacCarthy, Desmond (1877-1952)
Bell, Vanessa Stephen (1879-1961)
Woolf, Leonard (1880-1969)
MacCarthy, Mary (1882-1953)
Stephen, Thoby (1880-1906)
Stephen, Adrian (1883-1948)
Carrington, Dora (1893-1932)
Sydney-Turney, Saxon (1880-1962)
“I think; therefore, I am.” Though reduced now to the level of cliché, Rene Descartes’ famous maxim sums up perfectly the philosophical underpinnings of its thought. It has its roots in the writings of several nineteenth and twentieth century philosophers, among them Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Søren Kierkegaard. The philosophy is by most standards a very loose conglomeration of perspectives, aesthetics, and approaches to dealing with the world and its inherent difficulties. There are therefore countless permutations and flavors of existentialism which cross disciplinary lines and modes of inquiry. In the most general sense, it deals with the recurring problem of finding meaning within existence. From this perspective, there are no meanings or structures that precede one’s own existence, as one finds in organized religion. Therefore, the individual must find or create meaning for his or her self. Its thought has garnered an unfair reputation for pessimism and even full-blown nihilism. This reputation is somewhat understandable. The idea of created meaning strikes some as ultimately meaningless or even absurd. Some of the popular tropes associated with existential philosophy, such as angst, boredom, or fear, likewise strike the average observer as dripping with pessimism. However, nothing in the philosophical train of thought of existentialism dictates a negative view of humanity or reality. In fact, much of the philosophy revolves around the limitless capacity for ethically and intellectually engaged persons to enact change in the world. Positive change is then an imperative for the true believer; otherwise existence is a complete void. To put it another way, it is not simply enough to “be.” One has to be “something” or life truly lacks meaning or purpose. From this point of view, it has the potential to indeed be a very positive means of approaching reality.
Writers of existentialism
de Beauvoir, Simone (1908-1986)
Beckett, Samuel (1906-1989)
Bukowski, Charles (1920-1994)
Camus, Albert (1913-1960)
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (1821-1881)
Heidegger, Martin (1889-1976)
Ionesco, Eugène (1909-1994)
Kafka, Franz (1883-1924)
Kierkegaard, Søren (1813-1855)
Marcuse, Herbert (1898-1979)
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844-1900)
Thoreau, Henry David (1817-1862)
Sartre, Paul (1905-1980)
The Beat Generation
In American in the 1950s, a new cultural and literary movement staked its claim on the nation’s consciousness. It was never a large movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible than any other competing aesthetic. The years immediately after the Second World War saw a wholesale reappraisal of the conventional structures of society. Just as the postwar economic boom was taking hold, students in universities were beginning to question the rampant materialism of their society. It was a product of this questioning. They saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, they railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation. The taboos against frank discussions of sexuality were seen as unhealthy and possibly damaging to the psyche. In the world of literature and art, they stood in opposition to the clean, almost antiseptic formalism of the early twentieth century Modernists. They fashioned a literature that was more bold, straightforward, and expressive than anything that had come before. Underground music styles like jazz were especially evocative for such writers, while threatening and sinister to the establishment. To many, the artistic productions of they crossed the line into pornography and therefore merited censorship. Some dismissed their literature as mere provocation – a means to get attention, not serious art. Time has proven that the cultural impact of them was far from short-lived, as the influence of their work continues to be widespread.
Writers of the Beat Generation
Ginsberg, Allen (1926-1997)
Kerouac, Jack (1922-1969)
Burroughs, William S. (1914-1997)
Corso, Gregory (1930-2001)
Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (1919-)
Cassady, Neal (1926-1968)
Solomon, Carl (1928-1993)
Holmes, John Clellon (1926-1988)
Johnson, Joyce (1935-)
Kesey, Ken (1935-2001)
Brautigan, Richard (1935-1984)
Snyder, Gary (1930-)
For the sake of convenience the this period can be divided into three relatively coherent parts: the Restoration Age (1660-1700), in which Milton, Bunyan, and Dryden were the dominant influences; the Augustan Age (1700-1750), in which Pope was the central poetic figure, while Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett were presiding over the sophistication of the novel; and the Age of Johnson(1750-1798), which, while it was dominated and characterized by the mind and personality of the inimitable Dr. Samuel Johnson, whose sympathies were with the fading Augustan past, saw the beginnings of a new understanding and appreciation of the work of Shakespeare, the development, by Sterne and others, of the novel of sensibility, and the emergence of the Gothic school — attitudes which, in the context of the development of a cult of Nature, the influence of German romantic thought, religious tendencies like the rise of Methodism, and political events like the American and French revolutions — established the intellectual and emotional foundations of English Romanticism.
Neoclassical Period and
The Restoration Age
(1660-1700), in which Milton, Bunyan, and Dryden were the dominant influences
Neoclassical Period and
The Augustan Age
(1700-1750), in which Pope was the central poetic figure, while Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett were presiding over the sophistication of the novel
Neoclassical Period and
The Age of Johnson
(1750-1798), which, while it was dominated and characterized by the mind and personality of the inimitable Dr. Samuel Johnson, whose sympathies were with the fading Augustan past, saw the beginnings of a new understanding and appreciation of the work of Shakespeare, the development, by Sterne and others, of the novel of sensibility, and the emergence of the Gothic school — attitudes which, in the context of the development of a cult of Nature, the influence of German romantic thought, religious tendencies like the rise of Methodism, and political events like the American and French revolutions — established the intellectual and emotional foundations of English Romanticism.
Jane Austen, John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, John Dryden and Henry Fielding
Other major writers of the era include John Dryden, John Wilmot 2nd Earl of Rochester, and John Locke.
In Latin, Charles is Carolus. So the Caroline Age refers to the reign of Charles I of England, from 1625 (the death of James I) to 1649 (Charles I’s execution and the beginning of the Interregnum).
Caroline Age and Authors
The big names in the English literature of the period: John Milton’s early works date from the Caroline period (but not Paradise Lost); Robert Burton; Sir Thomas Browne. Apart from Milton, the most famous active poet was perhaps George Herbert, one of the metaphysical poets. The Cavalier poets — including Carew, Lovelace, and Suckling — were also active during this period, as was Robert Herrick; this last group has become known as the Sons of Ben for their devotion to Ben Jonson.
From 1649 to 1660 Puritans in England were allied to the state power held by the military regime, headed by Oliver Cromwell until his death in 1658. They broke into numerous sects, of which the Presbyterian group comprised most of the clergy, but was deficient in political power since Cromwell’s sympathies were with the Independents. During this period the term “Puritan” becomes largely moot, therefore, in British terms, though the situation in New England was very different. After the English Restoration the Savoy Conference and Uniformity Act 1662 drove most of the Puritan ministers from the Church of England, and the outlines of the Puritan movement changed over a few decades into the collections of Presbyterian and Congregational churches, operating as they could as Dissenters under changing regimes.
The Jacobean Age
English Literature coincides with the reign of James I,
1603 – 1625. During this time the literature became sophisticated, sombre, and conscious of social abuse and rivalry. The Jacobean Age produced rich
prose and drama as well as the King James translation of the Bible.
Shakespeare and Jonson wrote during the Jacobean Age, as well as John
Pomerantz_Susan Monday, December 20, 2010 6:23:20 AM ET
Donne, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Middleton.
Puritan Interregnum and authors
The Commonwealth period, also known as the
this, is a literary epoch influenced by the English historical context between 1649 and 1660.
Characteristics of the period
The Puritan views of the majority of Parliament and its supporters began to be imposed on the rest of the country.
A fundamental part of this epoch is the Puritan Revolution which
opposed to the influence of the Catholic Church
in the country.
After his execution, Parliament and military had the power and England had various forms of republican government with puritan ideas.
Pastimes such as the theater and gambling were also banned. However, some forms of art that were thought to be “virtuous”, such as opera, were encouraged.
There were many groups that criticized and protested against the religious politics, they defend the Calvinism:
“God is the only one who is above all things, not a monarch or a pagan figure”
The Revolutionary Period 1765-1815
Also known as the Age of Reason-
It will be convenient to treat the fifty years which elapsed between the meeting at New York, in 1765, of a Congress of delegates from nine colonies to protest against the Stamp Act, and the close of the second war with England, in 1815, as, for literary purposes, a single period. This half-century was the formative era of the American nation. Historically, it is divisible into the years of revolution and the years of construction. But the men who led the movement for independence were also, in great part, the same who guided in shaping the Constitution of the new republic, and the intellectual impress of the whole period is one and the same. The character of the age was as distinctly political as that of the colonial era in New England at least”was theological; and literature must still continue to borrow its interest from history. Pure literature, or what, for want of a better term, we call belles lettres, was not born in America until the nineteenth century was well under way. It is true that the Revolution had its humor, its poetry, and even its fiction; but these were strictly for the home market.
The Revolutionary Period 1765-1815 and
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was influential in swaying public opinion in favor of independence.
The best known writer of the Revolutionary era outside of the political field is Ben Franklin.
English authors like Cowper and Sheridan and Burke. Their importance for us to-day is rather antiquarian than literary, though the most noteworthy of them will be mentioned in due course in the present chapter. It is also true that one or two of Irving’s early books fall within the last years of the period now under consideration. But literary epochs overlap one another at the edges, and these writings may best be postponed to a subsequent chapter.
While the 1830s through 1850s is usually identified as the period when American literature came into its own, the 1820s were actually the years when critics first agreed that the United States had produced writers who wrote distinctively American works worthy of a great nation. This interest in producing identifiably American works, and celebrating those works, can be called “literary nationalism.”
In the wake of the American victory over England in the War of 1812, a new confidence and sense of national identity emerged. Many Americans saw their country as a place of democratic ideals that afforded opportunity to ordinary people rather than rewarding unearned social distinction or inherited wealth.
Writers like Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and James Fenimore Cooper achieved international reputations as distinctively American writers. Still, most Americans, and certainly most American writers, regarded their literature as not necessarily distinct from but rather in conversation with English literary traditions.
American writers in this period did not write uncritically patriotic texts. Instead, their works reflected and participated in anxieties about the future of a young nation grappling with divisive issues such as slavery, states’ rights, national tariffs, and other matters.
Many writers and artists in the 1820s placed a special emphasis on the importance of America’s natural landscape for the development of national character.
American writing began with the work of English adventurers and colonists in the New World chiefly for the benefit of readers in the mother country. Some of these early works reached the level of literature, as in the robust and perhaps truthful account of his adventures by Captain John Smith and the sober, tendentious journalistic histories of John Winthrop and William Bradford in New England. From the beginning, however, the literature of New England was also directed to the edification and instruction of the colonists themselves, intended to direct them in the ways of the godly.
Colonial Period and
The first work published in the Puritan colonies was the Bay Psalm Book (1640), and the whole effort of the divines who wrote furiously to set forth their views—among them Roger Williams and Thomas Hooker—was to defend and promote visions of the religious state. They set forth their visions—in effect the first formulation of the concept of national destiny—in a series of impassioned histories and jeremiads from Edward Johnson’s Wonder-Working Providence (1654) to Cotton Mather’s epic Magnalia Christi Americana (1702).
Even Puritan poetry was offered uniformly to the service of God. Michael Wigglesworth’s Day of Doom (1662) was uncompromisingly theological, and Anne Bradstreet’s poems, issued as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650), were reflective of her own piety. The best of the Puritan poets, Edward Taylor, whose work was not published until two centuries after his death, wrote metaphysical verse worthy of comparison with that of the English metaphysical poet George Herbert.
Sermons and tracts poured forth until austere Calvinism found its last utterance in the words of Jonathan Edwards. In the other colonies writing was usually more mundane and on the whole less notable, though the journal of the Quaker John Woolman is highly esteemed, and some critics maintain that the best writing of the colonial period is found in the witty and urbane observations of William Byrd, a gentleman planter of Westover, Virginia.
American Renaissance Period
American Renaissance, also called New England Renaissance , period from the 1830s roughly until the end of the American Civil War in which American literature, in the wake of the Romantic movement, came of age as an expression of a national spirit.
American Renaissance Period and
The literary scene of the period was dominated by a group of New England writers, the “Brahmins,” notably Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell. They were aristocrats, steeped in foreign culture, active as professors at Harvard College, and interested in creating a genteel American literature based on foreign models. Longfellow adapted European methods of storytelling and versifying to narrative poems dealing with American history. Holmes, in his occasional poems and his “Breakfast-Table” series (1858-91), brought touches of urbanity and jocosity to polite literature. Lowell put much of his homeland’s outlook and values into verse, especially in his satirical Biglow Papers (1848-67).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo [Credit: Courtesy of The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]One of the most important influences in the period was that of the Transcendentalists (see Transcendentalism), centred in the village of Concord, Massachusetts, and including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, George Ripley, and Margaret Fuller. The Transcendentalists contributed to the founding of a new national culture based on native elements. They advocated reforms in church, state, and society, contributing to the rise of free religion and the abolition movement and to the formation of various utopian communities, such as Brook Farm. The abolition movement was also bolstered by other New England writers, including the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier and the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) dramatized the plight of the black slave.
Apart from the Transcendentalists, there emerged during this period great imaginative writers—Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman—whose novels and poetry left a permanent imprint on American literature. Contemporary with these writers but outside the New England circle was the Southern genius Edgar Allan Poe, who later in the century had a strong impact on European literature.