Friday, May 10, 2013

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Entering the Realm of Realism

During the Civil War Harriet Beecher Stowe was in the midst of writing her very first realist novel called "The Pearl of Orr's Island." In a collection of her own letters she writes about how this piece would not be as romantic as some of her others. She speaks about how she wants her readers to be warned that there is no obnoxious romanticizing that most of the readers are used to. The excerpt states,

 “In commencing again ‘The Pearl of Orr’s Island’, the author meets the serious embarrassment of trying to revive for the second time an unexpected pleasure… We beg our readers to know that no great romance is coming, only a story as pale and colorless as real life, and the sad truth.

You will not be interested as you have been, kind friends, we cannot hope it, your expectations are raised only to be dashed; for our characters have no strange and wondrous adventures of outward life, and the changes that occur to them and the history that they make is that of the inner life, that “cometh not with observation.”

We are most sorry for our dear little child-audience, who, now that Mara and Moses have grown up, will, we fear, lose interest in them. What a pity, boys and girls that you are not grown up to in these six months and then Mara and Moses would not seem to you to be getting dull and talking all sorts of unintelligible talk.

But no, dear little folks, we don’t wish it, either. We pray you may stay long little and believing and able to be pleased with child’s stories; for Christ says as such as you is the kingdom of heaven. We must try and see what can be done for you and whether Captain Kittridge has not a story or two left in his pocket, with which to beguile your time.”

This passage shows Stowe’s transition into the realm of realism. She is begging of her readers to notice that she is now speaking the whole truth with not much romantic bias or just giving her readers a story that she feels will interest them. There is more importance in understanding what it truly going on in the real world through some words of historical fiction. She also states that even though it will be new for her readers she hopes that they accept the insight she is trying to portray to them, even though many of them have not been accustomed to this sort of reading.
            The realm of realism was a real turning point in literary history. This was mainly caused by the Civil war era; one of the most controversial times for the human race and our nation. Stowe’s transition is dramatically significant because of this.
Realism is the “interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.” This means that Stowe hopes to open people’s eyes to the real world around them, even children. She starts to believe that it is absurd for children to grow up with this unconceivable notion the world is full of romance and fantasy when, in reality, people are killing each other over skin color, property and money. Her input is extremely significant in this literary transition for these exact reasons. Without the help of writing such as this many people would still have their heads stuck in a romantic novel instead of focus on the ground the walk on and the people that pass them every day.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Willa Cather: Contemporary Literature

Willa Cather
For an Editorial on Willa Cather's life Click Here.


My dear Editor:
Like Mr. Canby, I do not believe in courses in contemporary literature, and for just the reasons which he advances, namely:
I think that the material is still too untested for satisfactory teaching, and that the very large majority of teachers are not sufficiently in the atmosphere of the writing world to interpret and discriminate in any definite way.
But I am afraid you will not think me very obliging if I merely quote Mr. Canby—you will think I am taking a very easy way of replying to your question.
I have also other reasons. In the first place, most American boys are hurried into active life so early, that even the few who have the possibility of developing literary taste have scarcely time to do so. Unless they read the great English classics in high school and in college, they never find time to read them. And that means that in their maturity they have no background. By "classics" I certainly do not mean rather special things like the works of Sir Thomas Browne or De Quincy, but the great books that still influence the life and thought and standards of the English speaking peoples. Within the last five years, for example, an amazing number of quotations from Shakespeare's plays and sonnets have been pertinently used in the editorial columns of the New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune. In each case the editor used them not to exhibit his knowledge, but to drive home his point. I think we should all, in our school days, be given a chance at Shakespeare, Milton, Fielding, Jane Austen—coming down as late as Thackeray, George Eliot, George Meredith, and Thomas Hardy. I don't mean that Macbeth or The Egoist or Henry Esmond can be "taught" at all. I mean that the students can be "exposed," so to speak, to the classics. If the germ "takes," even in very few, it will develop, and give them a great deal of pleasure in life. And those who do not catch the infection will certainly not be at all harmed. As regards contemporary literature, the work of living authors, I think young people should be allowed to discover for themselves what they like. For young people, half the pleasure of reading new books is in finding them out for themselves. If a boy goes quite wild about a very silly new book, his teacher can never convince him that it is not good. If he finds a really good one out for himself, it counts with him for a great deal more than if he had been told he must read it. No book can be called a "classic" until it is a hundred years old, surely. How many so-called "classics" have you seen die in your own lifetime, Mr. Johnson? A fine taste for literature is largely a matter of the ear, and is as rare as absolute pitch in music. But a great many boys and girls can enjoy a great play like Julius Caesar because of its relation to life, and they do get something out of the power and beauty of the lines.
While I do not believe that English literature can be "taught" in the sense that Latin can be taught, I know from experience that an instructor who is really steeped in his subject, who loves both literature and life, can, by merely expressing his own honest enthusiasms, or his honest objections, have a great influence on young people. If the English teacher is vain and opinionated, and wishes to astonish his classes by a lot of diagrams and formulae which are supposed to explain to them how Julius Caesar was written, and why Far From the Madding Crowd is a fine novel, he will prejudice his better students against the subject he teaches, and will immensely reinforce the self-satisfaction of the shallow and conceited ones.
Willa Cather


(Members of the CEA will recall the discussion started by Mr. Henry Canby and carried on in these columns over the desirability of English courses exclusively devoted to contemporary literature. In the course of that argument it was pointed out that much writing of the moment is experimental, and that the author himself is testing devices and techniques which later may be abandoned.
Miss Willa Cather who has been overburdened by letters from strangers, especially teachers and students, asking her judgment on literary matters, may have had her burden made heavier as a result of her contribution to this argument in last December's "News Letter." Yet she graciously permits us to reprint the following paragraphs from a letter to a friend which will serve to illustrate her own experimental attitude in one of her books. —Ed.)
Let me try to answer your question. When I wrote The Professor's House, I wished to try two experiments in form. The first is the device often used by the early French and Spanish novelists; that of inserting the Nouvelle into the Roman. "Tom Outland's Story" has been published in French and Polish and Dutch, as a short narrative for school children studying English. But the experiment which interested me was something a little more vague, and was very much akin to the arrangement followed in sonatas in which the academic sonata form was handled somewhat freely. Just before I began the book I had seen, in Paris, an exhibition of old and modern Dutch paintings. In many of them, the scene presented was a living room warmly furnished, or a kitchen full of food and coppers. But in most of the interiors, whether drawing-room or kitchen, there was a square window, open, through which one saw the masts of ships or a stretch of gray sea. The feeling of the sea that one got through those square windows was remarkable, and gave me a sense of the fleets of Dutch ships that ply quietly on all the waters of the globe—to Java, etc.
In my book I tried to make Professor St. Peter's house rather overcrowded and stuffy with new things; American proprieties, clothes, furs, petty ambitions, quivering jealousies—until one got rather stifled. Then I wanted to open the square window and let in the fresh air that blew off the Blue Mesa, and the fine disregard of trivialities which was in Tom Outland's face and in his behaviour.
The above concerned me as a writer only, but the Blue Mesa (the Mesa Verde) actually was discovered by a young cowpuncher in just this way. The great explorer Nordenkjoeld, wrote a scientific book about this discovery, and I myself had the good fortune to hear the story of it from a very old man, brother to Dick Wetherell. Dick Wetherell as a young boy forded Mancos River and rode into the Mesa after lost cattle. I followed the real story very closely in Tom Outland's narrative.
Willa Cather

-->Willa Cather’s own opinion on Literature:
            Willa Cather wrote several novels within her lifetime. Although her style was among the romanticism style she has been classified within the realistic works. This classification could come from moments in her literary life where she followed the narration very closely to historical contexts like in The Professor's House where she“the Blue Mesa (the Mesa Verde) actually was discovered by a young cowpuncher in just this way. The great explorer Nordenkjoeld, wrote a scientific book about this discovery, and I myself had the good fortune to hear the story of it from a very old man, brother to Dick Wetherell. Dick Wetherell as a young boy forded Mancos River and rode into the Mesa after lost cattle. I followed the real story very closely in Tom Outland's narrative.”

            Willa Cather also had a strong belief on how the youth of her generation should be taught literature, and if literature should be taught at all.  How the classics may not necessarily be the classics that we as readers think of today, and how we were forced into literary genres and classics rather than finding the inspiration on our own accord. Even though she had her own taste in literature she thought that it was vital that the youth of her generation would not be forced into liking one area of literature verses another, but that they had the freedom to choose.

 And those who do not catch the infection will certainly not be at all harmed. As regards contemporary literature, the work of living authors, I think young people should be allowed to discover for themselves what they like.”
Although Willa Cather is classified into the category of Realism she believes that everyone should be able to figure out his or her own likings and disliking’s of style. This may not be her own opinion upon the novels out there today but it shows her character and how she would want the youth of her time to be able to find their own way into literature. And this quote can also show the reader that if literature does not reach into someone’s heart then there is no harm done. She is not forcing the world of literature onto someone, or stating that one style is more important than the other but she is simply writing to the editor to make her point clear that the youth needs to be able to figure out their own opinions when it comes to contemporary literature.

“No book can be called a "classic" until it is a hundred years old, surely. How many so-called "classics" have you seen die in your own lifetime, Mr. Johnson? A fine taste for literature is largely a matter of the ear, and is as rare as absolute pitch in music.”
This quotation can show the reader how important literature was to Cather as “A fine taste for literature is largely a matter of the ear, and is as rare as absolute pitch in music.” A classic, a great form of literature is something that not everyone can do, it only comes around every once in awhile and only then when it is truly heard could it be understood just like that of music. When it comes to music the idea of the perfect pitch is extremely hard to find, to resonate and to produce. This is the same as literature. Only every now and then will literature have its perfect pitch, and can be considered a classic.

“While I do not believe that English literature can be "taught" in the sense that Latin can be taught, I know from experience that an instructor who is really steeped in his subject, who loves both literature and life, can, by merely expressing his own honest enthusiasms, or his honest objections, have a great influence on young people.”
When the reader sees this, not only could it be directed towards the editor at this time period but it could also be seen through a teacher’s perspective today. English literature cannot be taught, but it can be felt. It takes a teacher who has immersed his or her into the art to be able to talk about the art, even then this is not classified as teaching. Only when the students see the teacher model just how important literature is, the feeling one can get through literature and the emotions that can be physically felt can one help a student see the importance and the power of literature. The other side of this quotation is that if a teacher tries to teach literature the way one would teach math, or in her words “Latin” all power and emotion would be lost. When someone is trying to think about why the novel was wrote, what the authors purpose was, drawing “diagrams and formulae which are supposed to explain to them how Julius Caesar was written;…” the teacher then looses all of the emotion behind the piece itself. Literature is something that is meant to be enjoyed, not torn apart like math is broken down into different segments.
Willa Cather was seen as many things throughout her lifetime, a student, an editor, a friend however, she was also an author. "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before" this idea of human stories helped her within her writing and her ability to see the world for more than it was, or in this particular case two or three ways which can repeat only with different twists and turns. Willa Cather was the author who saw these twists and turns and was able to put it into paper, at first with the help of her friend Sara Orne Jewett “ who encouraged the writer to develop her own voice with her own materials”.

For Further Discovery:
An Interesting Willa Cather Letter By:Julian Mason
Cather Bibliography
Myth in the Works of Willa Cather By: Evelyn Helmick

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Harriet Beecher Stowe

"In 1862, the century's two most prominent women writers published novels which took as their major historical event the fall of Girolamo Savonarola, the fifteenth-century monk who attempted to bring social and religious reform to Florence. Harriet Beecher Stowe finished the serialization of Agnes of Sorrento in the May issue of Cornhill Magazine(FN1) and, in the issue immediately following, George Eliot began publication of Romola.(FN2) Although both novelists adhered to the historiographical tradition which saw Savonarola as a great precursor of the Protestant Reformation--an "Italian Luther" as Stowe calls him,(FN3) neither made Savonarola the central figure of her novel. Nor did they follow their beloved Sir Walter Scott by making an ordinary man into the hero.(FN4) Instead they refuted one of the central tenets of the nineteenth-century historical novel by selecting young women as their protagonists: Agnes, a country girl who is sheltered by the spiritual peace of a nearby convent, and Romola, educated daughter of a Florentine humanist who lives "in learned seclusion from the interests of actual life."(FN5) Beautiful, virtuous, and vulnerable, both characters seem destined for romance. But despite the appearance of handsome and mysterious suitors--a dispossessed Italian prince in Agnes and a shipwrecked Greek scholar in Romola--Stowe and Eliot insist that their heroines will be influenced by Savonarola's teaching and caught up in the forces of change sweeping through Italy. Although Agnes and Romola are passionately attracted to the men who appear so suddenly in their lives, they are also eager to share in Savonarola's mission. Like the authors, Agnes and Romola are poised between the demands of history and the dreams of romance.
Through a comparative study of the two novels, I will explore the relationship between "history" and "romance," recognizing that the boundaries of history have changed dramatically during the past twenty years and that definitions of "romance" have always been difficult to fix.(FN6) Stowe jubilantly casts history aside for the benefit of her heroine. "All dates shall give way to the fortunes of our story," she declares in the Preface. "And our lovers shall have the benefit of fairyland; and whoso wants history will not find it here, except to our making, and as it suits our purpose" (ix). Thus, she writes in the tradition of William Gilmore Simms, an American historical novelist who declared that the artist should not be constrained by facts: "Each man becomes his own historian ... Dates and names which, with the mere chronologist are everything, with us are nothing."(FN7) Presenting Agnes of Sorrento as a story of romantic love, Stowe promises an ending that will satisfy the heroine's desires--irrespective of historical circumstances…
...By writing historical fiction, Stowe and Eliot challenged a genre which was "predominantly masculine." George Dekker notes the celebration of male feats and male relationships, the relative absence of women, and the denigration of the courtship plot, while Avrom Fleishman assumes that nineteenth-century novelists would choose ordinary men as their heroes.
The historical novel is pre-eminently suited to telling how individual lives were shaped at specific moments of history, and how this shaping reveals the character of those historical periods ... The individuals selected for heroic (or at least specially marked) status are not likely to be world-historical figures ... The typical man of an age is one whose life is shaped by world-historical figures and other influences in a way that epitomizes the processes of change going forward in the society as a whole ... The heroes of historical fiction represent not only Renaissance man or Edwardian man but man in general, conceived as a historical being who is subject to the forces of one historical age or another. The ultimate subject of the historical novel is, then, man in history.(FN11)
Writing in 1971, Fleishman might claim to have been using "man" in its universal sense. However, subsequent research, such as Joan Kelly-Gadol's classic 1977 essay "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" has shown that generalizations about "man in history" do not apply to women.(FN12) Raising many of the same issues as feminist historians, Stowe and Eliot commit to "her story" by deciding that the protagonists whose lives are "shaped by world-historical figures" would be women. Granting heroic status to exceptional individuals rather than to a collective group such as the female peasantry may be, as Alison Booth has argued, the legacy of aristocratic romance,(FN13) but it is nonetheless a significant intervention in a predominantly male tradition.
It is not clear at what point during the process of composition that the authors decided to link the young girl's story with the fall of the great Florentine leader. Agnes of Sorrento was inspired by Stowe's trips to Italy during 1857 and 1859-60; these journeys gave her increased sympathy for medieval Catholicism, a passion for Italy's lush natural landscape, and a vision of her heroine. Despite the rabid anti-Catholicism of her father, Calvinist preacher Lyman Beecher, Stowe had come to believe that the Catholicism of the late Middle Ages provided several benefits lost to the modern Protestant world, including a protective system of monasteries and convents; a splendid artistic heritage; and an awareness of the feminine element in religion, evident in the teachings regarding Mary, in artistic representations of female holiness, and in metaphors (the Church as "a tender nursing mother," for example [Agnes, 275]). Relishing the glorious beauty of the Italian countryside, Stowe described Agnes of Sorrento as "a spontaneous tribute to the exceeding loveliness and beauty of all things there ... it is fragrant with love of Italy and memory of some of the brightest hours of life."(FN14) Stowe told her publishers that the story originated with the sight of a beautiful young girl sitting at her orange stand under the old arched gateway of Sorrento. Later, Stowe entertained her traveling companions with tales about the innocent country girl whom she named Agnes. Savonarola is not even mentioned until Chapter 8, where the narrator describes him as the person "who perfectly represented the attitude of the highest Christian of those times" (72)..."
*The rest of the article can be found at:

                Harriet Beecher Stowe was an abolitionist and an author, who wrote novels and stories about strong historical dismays.
             This academic journal shows how Harriet Beecher Stowe and another popular woman writer approached the same writing idea, while using different approaches. Stowe used the history of Girolamo Savonarola and the ideas of romance, in a novel, to expose his teaching and the changes through Italy.
              As you read on you learn that Stowe approaches this with an unprecedented style. She chooses to break the theme of most historic novels by using a young woman as her protagonist. Throughout the rest of the reading you also see that her views of romance are not typical. She says that romance is “difficult to fix”, which supports how it is common for readers to see Stowe writing about unique relationships that don’t fit the cliché romance that many people tend to think of.  

           This piece provides evidence of Stowe helping develop the realm of realism through her ability to intrigue readers with writing that is far from the norm. It would seem most attractive to people that enjoy writing with a strong voice about world issues. A more common piece that uses the same approach is Uncle Tom’s Cabin, due to her exposing the struggles of slavery and the ability of people to make a change. Her voice causes readers to contemplate real life situations, which is what makes it so interesting. This reading clearly represents that, along with the fact that Stowe, as a writer, represents a new outlook on the world.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mark Twain on William Dean Howells

Because Twain is so often considered a satirist, many of his readers, and possibly even his critics, often forget that the author was, first and formost, just that: an author, a person who writes and studies writing. It is easy to box up and label Twain as nothing more than a funnyman, but, upon close inspection, it is clear that he was much more than someone who could only make others laugh.
        This can all be seen in Twain's nonfictional essay, titled, "William Dean Howells," which is, very appropriately, about William Dean Howells, a fellow writer of the realism genre, much like Twain himself.
Twain’s essay, even just in prosody, is very unlike that of Howell’s writing. Twain writes very colloquially and with a very easy-to-understand level of diction and sentence structures. Howells, on the other hand, is known for writing deep, eloquent sentences that, to a modern reader, may not be the easiest to understand.
Twain claims that one of the biggest things that Howells has going in his favor, in terms of writing at least, is Howell’s ability to locate and utilize “the right word;”
“He seems to be almost always able to find that elusive and shifty grain of gold. A powerful agent is the right word: it lights the reader's way and makes it plain; a close approximation to it will answer, and much traveling is done in a well-enough fashion by its help, but we do not welcome it and applaud it and rejoice in it as we do when THE right one blazes out on us.”
Twain also says that it is not only Howells’ diction that makes him so outstanding a writer, but it is also everything else about him: his flow of speech, his rhythm, his construction, his expression, his quality of compression, and so on. All of this, which is so necessary for a great writer, was born to Howells, Twain asserts. He did not earn it or learn it, like many people have done. This great ability was simply assigned to Howell at birth, as if he was inherently meant to be a fantastic writer.
Twain says that, in order to determine whether a piece of literature is truly passable in the sense of compactness and clarity, the piece must be read aloud. And Howell’s works truly pass this test.
“You see how easy and flowing it is; how unvexed by ruggednesses, clumsinesses, broken meters; how simple and—so far as you or I can make out—unstudied; how clear, how limpid, how understandable, how unconfused by cross-currents, eddies, undertows; how seemingly unadorned, yet is all adornment, like the lily-of-the-valley; and how compressed, how compact, without a complacency-signal hung out anywhere to call attention to it.
There are twenty-three lines in the quoted passage. After reading it several times aloud, one perceives that a good deal of matter is crowded into that small space. I think it is a model of compactness. When I take its materials apart and work them over and put them together in my way, I find I cannot crowd the result back into the same hole, there not being room enough. I find it a case of a woman packing a man's trunk: he can get the things out, but he can't ever get them back again.”
Finally, Twain holds one last technique of Howell’s in the highest regard. He says that it is Howell’s sense of “stage direction,” the little section of clarifying description that follows a quote, that wins him over completely. It is these stage directions, one of the “little things,” that Howells so brilliantly executes.
There is another thing which is contentingly noticeable in Mr. Howells's books. That is his "stage directions"—those artifices which authors employ to throw a kind of human naturalness around a scene and a conversation, and help the reader to see the one and get at meanings in the other which might not be perceived if entrusted unexplained to the bare words of the talk. Some authors overdo the stage directions, they elaborate them quite beyond necessity; they spend so much time and take up so much room in telling us how a person said a thing and how he looked and acted when he said it that we get tired and vexed and wish he hadn't said it all.”
“But I am friendly to Mr. Howells's stage directions; more friendly to them than to any one else's, I think. They are done with a competent and discriminating art, and are faithful to the requirements of a stage direction's proper and lawful office, which is to inform. Sometimes they convey a scene and its conditions so well that I believe I could see the scene and get the spirit and meaning of the accompanying dialogue if some one would read merely the stage directions to me and leave out the talk.”
We must call into question all of Twain’s profuse and utter praising of Howell, especially because Twain is such a known satirist. It is a possibility that Twain is exaggerating his feelings about Howells in order to come off as sincere, though it is far more likely that Twain is exaggerating his feelings about Howells in order to prove his point that Howells is, in fact, none of the things that Twain says that he is. I suppose that this could be seen as a typical transgression among realist writers. It is more “realistic” for the writers of this movement to actually write about their issues with one another instead of other movements when writers may have ignored their issues with one another completely. It might also be considered more realistic that the authors aren’t so direct with their qualms with each other, and instead, they are slight and backhanded.
Perhaps Twain came across the exchange of letters that Howells and Daisy Miller author Henry James, another realist, wrote about each other. Howells himself writes about James in a very sarcastic and caustic manner, calling James “a very great literary genius” and saying that “it is he that is shaping and directing American fiction.” Similarly, it is possible that Twain is taking Howells’ essay on James and flipping it, using the same technique upon Howells himself.
James, on the other side of things, is less sarcastic and more direct. James says of Howells:
“He thinks scarcely anything too paltry to be interesting, that the small and the vulgar have been terribly neglected, and would rather see an exact account of a sentiment or a character he stumbles against everyday than a brilliant evocation of a passion or a type he has never seen and does not even particularly believe in.”
Here, James criticizes Howells of his subscription to realism, claiming that Howells has taken it too far, to the point where his writings have surpassed the point of an interesting new viewpoint into everyday lives to that of one which is utterly plain and boring. In short, James criticizes Howells, a realist, of being too real. This, to me, seems like an intrinsically flawed argument. One should not hold it against a duck for quacking, after all.

Original source
Howells' and James' letters

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jack London: Phenomena of Literary Evolution



    As an American essayist has said, this is the moment-mad century; the century "that first discovered how large a moment was; the century that makes a moment a colossal moment, as moments have never been made before; the century that with telephone and telegraph and printing-press, discovered the present tense and made all the world a voice on a wire." It is also a very busy century. Never was the world in such a hurry as now; never were its thoughts so broad and deep, its aims and occupations so many and so diverse. It well behooves whosoever has ideas to sell to the world to seek out what impression all this makes upon the literature of the day, in what manner the century is being and should be represented by print and paper. Why have predication and sentence-length decreased? Why is the three-volume novel left behind with the rest of the rubbish of the musty past? Why is the ubiquitous short story in such demand? What bearing have the answers to these questions upon the structure of a sentence? the shaping of a figure? the drawing of a parallel? the construction of a story? the delineation of a character? or the presentation of a social phase? If the idea merchant cannot answer these questions, it is high time for him to get down to work. The world knows what it wants, but it will not trouble itself to speak up and tell him. The world has no concern with him; it is getting what it wants, and it will go on getting what it wants from others who have got down to work.
     The comparison of the growth of the individual to the growth of the race, unlike most tricks of exposition, seems always to increase in strength and worth. From childhood to manhood, the mind of the individual moves from the simple to the complex. The thoughts of a child are few in number and small in stature. At first, in ratiocinative processes, its premises must cover little ground and be fully elaborated, and in the course of the deduction or induction there can be no omission of the smallest detail. Not an example can be avoided, not a step discarded. But the rounded mind of the man objects to such a slow procedure. It leaps swiftly from cause to effect, or vice versa, and concludes even as it leaps. The student refuses to sit under a professor who lectures after the fashion of the kindergarten. It drives him mad to have all things and the most obvious things explained at length. He would as soon sit down and read Defoe in words of one syllable or do sums in arithmetic on his fingers.
     And so with the race. It has had its adolescence; it is man-grown by now. The literature which delighted the race in its youth still delights the youth of the individual; but the race is now in its prime, and its literature must be a reflection of that prime. In obedience to the general law of evolution, all thought and all methods of representing thought must be concentrative. Language, spoken and written, has not escaped the working of this law. Language, as a means of conveying thought, is primarily figurative. The commonest words, used in the commonest ways, are stereotyped figures - figures, once new-born and pink, fresh, vivid, strong, in an elementary stage when the tongues of men groped for clearer expression. A figure is the development of an analogy, the establishment of identity through resemblance. As the race's first expression of the simplest thought was figurative, so was its first aggregate of thoughts into one powerful or beautiful whole. What is the allegory but a sustained figure? And it is to allegory that all primitive peoples first resort. It appeals to them, who, if they think at all, think like children. But the race to-day no longer has need of that childish expedient. Spenser was the last great poet to use it. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is the only great allegory now extant, and it owed its immediate and subsequent popularity to the illiterate masses, because they were illiterate, and because it was simple, dealt with a vital question and was powerfully, though crudely executed.
     As Professor Sherman has pointed out, the use of the analogy is to give to the material truth a spiritual setting - to make the reader feel as well as think. The allegory does this, and in a most sustained and expansive way. But the tendency of language is concentrative. Hence, the passing of the allegory, and with it the parable and fable. A study of the race's literature will reveal the replacement of these, in inexorable sequence, by the running metaphor, the clause metaphor, the phrase metaphor, the compound-word metaphor, and, lastly, the word metaphor. The sustained figure has been reduced to a single figure, the allegoric analogy to a word analogy. As the standard of mentality has risen, just so has the dictum of man gone forth that he must and will do his own thinking. He no longer wishes to have the thought iterated and reiterated and hammered in upon him again and again. Pleonasm is repellent to him.
     Thomson wrote, "compelled by strong Necessity." "Compelled" is tautologised by "strong Necessity," but none the less Pope amended the passage thus: "Compelled by strong Necessity's supreme command." Imagine the race to-day countenancing such bosh! But in condensing the allegory into the word analogy, neither the material nor the spiritual dare be sacrificed. Nor have they been sacrificed by the masters. In token whereof no better instance can be cited than:
The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water.
        There is the figure and the fact, the spiritual and the material, all represented by one word. It was not the poet's place to employ twenty lines of iambic pentameter in order to convey the semblance of burnished gold to fire, flames, the sun, etc., as the barge floated on the water; and it would have been highly inartistic had he done so. The reader is not a child. He receives pleasure in constructing the whole appearance from out of that one word, and he is exalted by realising the effect through his own effort. And that is just what the reader wants.
     "That style which leaves most to fancy in respect to the manner in which facts or relations may be apprehended will be in so far the easiest to read." It is in accordance with this truth that the predication has decreased, and likewise the length of sentence. The tendency of sentences has long been toward brevity and point. The race wants its reading matter to be not only concentrative, compact, but crisp, incisive, terse. It tolerates Mr. James, but it prefers Mr. Kipling. To the sins of the past let the following sentence of Spenser attest:      Marry, soe there have been divers good plottes devised, and wise counsells cast alleready about reformation of that realme; but they say, it is the fatall desteny of that land, that noe purposes, whatsoever are meant for her good, will prosper or take good effect, which, whether it proceede from the very GENIUS of the soyle, or influence of the starres, or that Allmighty God has not yet appoynted the time of her reformation, or that he reserveth her in this unquiett state till for some secrett scourdge, which shall by her come unto England, it is hard to be knowen, but yet much to be feared.      Imagine the lustful blue pencil of the twentieth-century editor wading through a sentence as that! And contrast it with this from the pen of Emerson:   

   My friends, in these two errors, I think, I find the causes of a decaying Church and a wasting unbelief. And what greater calamity can fall upon a nation than the loss of worship? Then all things go to decay. Genius leaves the temple to haunt the senate or the market. Literature becomes frivolous. Science is cold. The eye of youth is not lighted by the hope of other worlds, and age is without honour. Society lives to trifles, and when men die we do not mention them. A good illustration of the decline of sentence length is afforded by the following figures, which give the average words per sentence for five hundred periods:
     Every form of present-day literature exemplifies this concentrative tendency. The growth of the short story has been marked by the decay of the long novel. In the last century, and in the first portion of this, novels of one volume were acceptable; but publishers preferred those of two and three; nor were they avers to one of four, while five and six volume novels were not at all uncommon. The average novel of to-day contains from forty to seventy thousand words. What publisher would dream of even reading a MS. of the cyclopean proportions of Les Misérables? Poe always contended that the tale should be such that it could be read at one sitting. The King's Jackal, recently brought out by Richard Harding Davis, contains about twenty-seven thousand words, while Mr. Kipling seems to have set the form for a novel of forty to fifty pages.
     Again advantaging from our text, what the race wants chiefly is the passing thing done in the eternal way. This makes our literature largely episodal, and this want of the race Mr. Kipling has satisfied. He is terse, bald, jerky, disconnected, but there is nothing superfluous in his work. It consists only of the essentials, and is fancy-exciting. And that is just what the race wants, for it is past the kindergarten stage; it can do its own thinking. Give it the bare essentials, and it will do the rest. It can think more rapidly than it can read the printed words of the writer, and it is in a hurry. Division of labour, labour-saving machinery, rapid transit, the telephone and the telegraph - a myriad and one devices has the race invented for the economising of its energy and time. So in all things it demands the greatest possible amount crammed into the smallest possible space. And to this demand its literature must answer. The race does not want novels and stories teeming with superfluities. The unpruned shall be cast aside unread. What it wants is the meat of the matter, and it wants it now.
Jack London
     Jack London was an American writer, journalist, and social activist and had a passion for unionization and socialism.  His ideas about the environment around him, as well as the social events that took place during his time period, influenced his writing style.  Reading The Call of the Wild, depicted some of his views on Darwinism and also illustrated the role of character over the plot, representing Buck as a weak character at first who rises to the occasion by the end of the novel. London also had an interest in the psychology of the unconscious and in the work of Carl Jung
and wrote many short stories exhibiting some of the concepts and ideas from Jung to express the state of awareness of his characters. 
     Jack London's essay "Phenomena of Literary Evolution," expressed many of the ideas and changes in literature from romanticism to realism during the 19th century.  London initially expresses how rapid urbanization and industrialization impact the printing press, and now more than ever copies of literature are being mass produced resulting in a bigger and wider audience.  London describes the new works to be shorter in length, because it is unnecessary to have long novels that only take up space.  London demonstrates that the short story is a better way to get the point across in literature and highlights how a story is more enduring if they length isn't so extensive. 
           Jack London had a strong belief that hard work will get a person to where he or she wants to be in life, and the world will "get what it wants." London's admiration for many philosophers such as Darwin, Marx, and Jung have helped him develop his own literary path, along with the development of characters throughout his short stories.  One of the most important concepts expressed in realist literature should be the development of the character. London has a strong connection with the characters in his works, and demonstrates how the characters are what the reader should be identifying with when reading the work, and should not be as concerned with the plot.  Overall, London expresses the importance of giving  the readers what they want.  He suggests that the readers want a story in which they can relate to the character and have details of a real life situation. 

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Charles W. Chesnutt
Charles Chesnutt
That the popularity of a book cannot with certainty be determined in advance of publication is doubtless a matter of grief to many a worthy publisher, and never more so than when he has declined with thanks a volume that afterwards, under some other imprint, attains a wide sale. And yet the good qualities of a book are quite as apparent in the manuscript as in the published volume. There are many critics who explain in detail why a book has proved successful, but very often the explanation does not adequately explain.

A book is doubtless liked because it possesses certain qualities. Humor, pathos, plot, dramatic intensity, well drawn or strongly contrasted characters, literary style--some one or more of these a book must have in order to gain wide popularity; it must have more than one of them to attain an enduring place in literature. Lack of literary distinction has killed many a book that was rich in other good qualities, and a striking preponderance of some other quality has in other cases covered a multitude of sins against style.

Timeliness is a very potent factor in a book’s success. "Uncle Tom’s Cabin." appearing twenty years sooner than it did, before the national conscience had been stirred on the subject of slavery, would have fallen on stony ground; twenty years later, when slavery was a dead issue, it would have been simply an interesting study of a past epoch. Bellamy’s "Looking Backward" owed its success as well as its origin to the social unrest that stirs our modern life. Mr. Dooley, in his own inimitable way, discusses the living questions of the hour. Books are the fruit and flower of a nation’s thought; like other products of evolution, they thrive best in their native environment.

But the personal quality, after all, is what makes the book; it is the individuality of the author, speaking through the printed page, that differentiates the book from a thousand others. All other differences are transitory and unessential. And as this personal quality is more or less pronounced, to that extent does the book, or the picture, or the statue--whatever the medium of expression may be--stand out from the others that surround it. The high and clear intelligence that, like Shakespeare, can rise above time and circumstance and take as the materials of his art the basic elements of human life and character, is the only writer who can hope for enduring fame. The writer of the hour can only put himself in touch with current thought, and do the best that lies in him, and launch his frail bark on the troubled sea of popularity, uncertain whether it will sail or sink--prepared always for failure, but hoping always for the great success that will compensate for a lifetime of fruitless effort.


Charles Chesnutt was born to two African-Americans in 1858. He later wrote novels, and short stories and also was a public intellectual. Being an African American during this time period, he focused a lot on segregation, and attitudes toward race. He is known as one of the most important African American writers of his time. In Chesnutt's, "Why is a Book Popular?" he explains the different aspects of what makes a good book, and what can be seen in this type of book. In the second paragraph Chesnutt states,

"A book is doubtless liked because it posesses certain qualities. Humor, pathos, plot, dramatic intensity, well drawn or strongly contrasted characters, literary style--some one or more of these a book must have in order to gain wide popularity; it must have more than one of them to attain an enduring place in literature."

Chesnutt allows the reader to understand that a good book can't just happen, but instead there must be certain qualities that make up a good book. While studying realism, we know that character development is essential, and having a well developed character is what makes the book. However, Chesnutt explains that one quality is not going to make the novel exceptional. Instead, we must add many of the given qualities. Throughout realism and nautralism, we also see many distinct qualities shown, which is why many novels "attain an enduring place in literature."

"Books are the fruit and flower of a nation's thought; like other products of evolution, they thrive best in their native environment."
This quote is a perfect explanation of the importance of time period. Books written in the past allow readers to understand history, and literary elements of that time period. In the same paragraph, Chesnutt talks about the importance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." This novel gives the current reader an insight of what was actually happening, and shows through dialouge how words were pronounced and used. If this novel was written in the current setting, it wouldn't make much sense, because slavery happened many, many years ago. I agree with Mr. Chesnutt on this point made.
Charles Chesnutt makes many great points, and uses excellent examples throughout his essay. The whole essay gives a great view of who he really was, and what was important to him. When reading this, readers are introduced to many important characteristics of what makes a novel "one of a kind."
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Friday, March 1, 2013

Willa Cather: Concerns on the State of the Literary Novel

The Novel Démeublé

The novel, for a long while, has been over-furnished. The property-man has been so busy on its pages, the importance of material objects and their vivid presentation have been so stressed, that we take it for granted whoever can observe, and can write the English language, can write a novel. Often the latter qualification is considered unnecessary.

In any discussion of the novel, one must make it clear whether one is talking about the novel as a form of amusement, or as a form of art; since they serve very different purposes and in very different ways. One does not wish the egg one eats for breakfast, or the morning paper, to be made of the stuff of immortality. The novel manufactured to entertain great multitudes of people must be considered exactly like a cheap soap or a cheap perfume, or cheap furniture. Fine quality is a distinct disadvantage in articles made for great numbers of people who do not want quality but quantity, who do not want a thing that "wears," but who want change,—a succession of new things that are quickly threadbare and can be lightly thrown away. Does anyone pretend that if the Woolworth-store windows were piled high with Tanagra figurines at ten cents, they could for a moment compete with Kewpie brides in the popular esteem? Amusement is one thing; enjoyment of art is another.
Every writer who is an artist knows that his "power of observation," and his "power of description," form but a low part of his equipment. He must have both, to be sure but he knows that the most trivial of writers often have a very good observation. Merimee said in his remarkable essay on Gogol: "L'art de choisir parmi les innombrable traits que nous offre la nature est, après tout, bien plus difficile que celui de les observer avec attention et de les rendre avec exactitude."
There is a popular superstition that "realism" asserts itself in the cataloguing of a great number of material objects, in explaining mechanical processes, the methods of operating manufacturies and trades, and in minutely and unsparingly describing physical sensations. But is not realism, more than it is anything else, an attitude of mind on the part of the writer toward his material, a vague definition of the sympathy and candor with which he accepts, rather than chooses, his theme? Is the story of a banker who is unfaithful to his wife and who ruins himself by speculation in trying to gratify the caprices of his mistresses, at all reinforced by a masterly exposition of the banking system, our whole system of credits, the methods of the Stock Exchange? Of course, if the story is thin, these things do reinforce it in a sense,—any amount of red meat thrown into the scale to make the beam dip. But are the banking system and the Stock Exchange worth being written about at all? Have such things any place in imaginative art?
The automatic reply to this question is the name of Balzac. Yes, certainly, Balzac tried out the value of literalness in the novel, tried it out to the uttermost, as Wagner did the value of scenic literalness in the music drama. He tried it, too, with the passion of discovery, with the inflamed zest of an unexampled curiosity. If the heat of that furnace could not give hardness and sharpness to material accessories, no other brain will ever do it. To reproduce on paper the actual city of Paris; the houses, the upholstery, the food, the wines, the game of pleasure, the game of business, the game of finance: a stupendous ambition—but, after all, unworthy of an artist. In exactly so far as he succeeded in pouring out on his pages that mass of brick and mortar and furniture and proceedings in bankruptcy, in exactly so far he defeated his end. The things by which he still lives, the types of greed and avarice and ambition and vanity and lost innocence of heart which he created—are as vital today as they were then. But their material surroundings, upon which he expended such labor and pains . . . . the eye glides over them. We have had too much of the interior decorator and the "romance of business" since his day. The city he built on paper is already crumbling. Stevenson said he wanted to blue-pencil a great deal of Balzac's "presentation"—and he loved him beyond all modern novelists. But where is the man who could cut one sentence from the stories of Mérimée? And who wants any more detail as to how Carmencita and her fellow factory girls made cigars? Another sort of novel? Truly. Isn't it a better sort?
In this discussion another great name automatically occurs. Tolstoi was almost as great a lover of material things as Balzac, almost as much interested in the way dishes were cooked, and people were dressed, and houses were furnished. But there is this determining difference; the clothes, the dishes, the moving, haunting interiors of those old Moscow houses, are always so much a part of the emotions of the people that they are perfectly synthesized; they seem to exist, not so much in the author's mind, as in the emotional penumbra of the characters themselves. When it is fused like this, literalness ceases to be literalness—it is merely part of the experience.
If the novel is a form of imaginative art, it cannot be at the same time a vivid and brilliant form of journalism. Out of the teeming, gleaming stream of the present it must select the eternal material of art. There are hopeful signs that some of the younger writers are trying to break away from mere verisimilitude, and, following the development of modern painting, to interpret imaginatively the material and social investiture of their characters; to present their scene by suggestion rather than by enumeration. The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification. The novelist must learn to write, and then he must unlearn it; just as the modern painter learns to draw, and then learns when utterly to disregard his accomplishment, when to subordinate it to a higher and truer effect. In this direction only, it seems to me, can the novel develop into anything more varied and perfect than all of the many novels that have gone before.
One of the very earliest American novels might well serve as a suggestion to later writers. In The Scarlet Letter, how truly in the spirit of art is the mise-en-scène presented. That drudge, the theme-writing high school student, could scarcely be sent there for information regarding the manners and dress and interiors of the Puritans. The material investiture of the story is presented as if unconsciously; by the reserved, fastidious hand of an artist, not by the gaudy fingers of a showman or the mechanical industry of a department store window-dresser. As I remember it, in the twilight melancholy of that book, in its consistent mood, one can scarcely ever see the actual surroundings of the people; one feels them, rather, in the dusk.
Whatever is felt upon the page without being specifically named there—that, it seems to me, is created. It is the inexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the over-tone divined by the ear but not heard by it, the verbal mood, the emotional aura of the fact or the thing or the deed, that gives high quality to the novel or the drama, as well as to poetry itself.
Literalness, when applied to the presenting of mental reactions and of physical sensations seems to be no more effective than when it is applied to material things. A novel crowded with physical sensations is no less a catalogue than one crowded with furniture. A book like The Rainbow by Mr.Lawrence, sharply reminds one how vast a distance lies between emotion and mere sensory reactions. Characters can be almost de-humanized by a laboratory study of the behavior of their bodily organs under sensory stimuli—can be reduced, indeed, to mere animal pulp. Can one imagine anything more terrible than the story of Romeo and Juliet, rewritten in prose by Mr. Lawrence?

How wonderful it would be if we could throw all the furniture out of the window; and along with it, all the meaningless reiterations concerning physical sensations, all the tiresome old patterns, and leave the room as bare as the stage of a Greek theatre, or as that house into which the glory of Pentecost descended; leave the scene bare for the play of emotions, great and little—for the nursery tale, no less than the tragedy, is killed by tasteless amplitude. The elder Dumas enunciated a great principle when he said that to make a drama, a man needed one passion, and four walls.


Willa Cather was one of the most influential writers of the 19th Century. Cather contributed poetry and short stories, but she is most well known and applauded for her longer works of Romanticism and historical fiction. She is generally regarded as a realist writer, and boldly states in an article in the Nebraska State Journal:

"There is nothing more fatal than the habit so cultivated by young authors of seeing things in a 'literary' way. There is only one way to see the world truly, and that is to see it in a human way"

Cather was born in Virginia, December 7th 1873, and by the age of nine she moved twice more and found herself adjusting to the foreignness of life on the prairie.  The move was hard for Cather as a young girl in a strange place, and she described the move in an interview:
"I was little and homesick and lonely . . . So the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn the shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion that I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and curse of my life."
In 1890 Cather attended the University of Nebraska and was consumed with growing ambition to become a writer. She graduated in 1896 and moved to Pittsburgh after accepting a job as manager of a womens magazine. She also wrote theatre reviews for two other magazines, and she became increasingly involved in the Pittsburgh arts scene as she developed an intense love of music and drama. Much of her earlier works including O Pioneers! and My Antonia encompassed aspects of her past transition to the country: Her enchantment with, and attachment to the land, as well as the struggles of an immigrant which she knew all too well. After the war, Cather's novels became more concerned with disillusionment and a sense of discontent with the modern world. Her novel One of Ours was applauded by scores of soldiers and won her the Pulitzar Prize despite it's mixed reviews from critics. In her novel,  A Lost Lady, Cather employs her literary philosophy she explains in "The Novel Démeublé", and article from The New Republic which appeared April 20th, 1922. The New Republic existed since 1914 and has been an arena for liberal writers to comment on current politically and artistically relevant topics. Cather's article is very much a universal one; she is explanatory enough that it could interest the common reader, but she also directly addresses her own contemporaries, as well as future generations of writers.

In "The Novel Démeublé", Cather takes up quarrels with her contemporaries about the state of the American novel and literary realism. Firstly, Cather condemns the literary tradition that praises an author’s ability to account for material objects, or to write pages worth of observatory descriptions. Such a tradition defines the standard of a good writer as one that can adequately observe, and not even necessarily compose a work of art that actually does something useful for readers. She makes the distinction between novels that are for artistic purposes and novels that are merely for the amusement of the reader. People often trade quality for quantity because no one wants to read thought-provoking and profound literature at their leisure. Cather states that to be a good writer one must certainly have the ‘power of description’, but that is merely a less important facet of the skills one must possess to create a meaningful, effective work of art.

Cather defines realism as “an attitude of mind on the part of the writer toward his matter, a vague definition of the sympathy and candor with which he accepts, rather than chooses, his theme…” She criticizes contemporaries Honore de Balzac and Richard Wagner for their endeavors which yielded less than impressive results. She criticizes Wagner’s works as exemplary of the follies of many others: Wagner can impressively recreate aesthetic elements, however Cather argues that:
  “The things by which he still lives, the types of greed and avarice and ambition and vanity and lost of innocence of heart which he created- are as vital as they were then. But their material surroundings, upon which he expended such labor and pains… the eye glides over them.”

  While Balzac’s and Wagner’s works may condemn them to Cather’s category of “interior decorators” Tolstoy managed to escape such scrutiny. According to Cather, Tolstoy successfully incorporated his materialistic observations and descriptions into the emotions of the people whom he endeavored to capture in his work. She says that such descriptions are” always so much a part of the emotions of the people that they are perfectly synthesized.” And because of this fusion, Tolstoy's recreations are relevant and inevitably part of the experience.

In her article, Cather prescribes a script to younger generations of writers that seem to be trying "to interpret imaginatively the material and social investiture of their characters; to present their scene by suggestion rather than by enumeration" She insists that simplification is essential in order for writers to further perfect and vary the state of the literary novel. Cather states that since the novel is a form of imaginative art it cannot simultaneously be a brilliant work of journalism. Writers who attempt social reform and political commentary within their work, as good writers do, must go about in a way that preserves the dignity of their work. Meaning, that a writer must be able to write well, but writing well journalistically must be inherently differentiated from writing well in the form of a novel.

One of the novel’s Cather chooses to use as exemplary of this idea is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Cather testifies that “The material investiture of the story is presented as if unconsciously; by the reserved, fastidious hand of an artist, not by the gaudy fingers of a showman or the mechanical industry of a department store window-dresser.” She uses Hawthorne’s novel as an example of one that does certainly include observations and descriptions, but the novel achieves its literary purposes and the scenery thereby goes practically unnoticed- as it should. The background information; the scenery, landscape, and observations further enhance the mood of the work and allow readers to further explore the world of the novel. Hawthorne succeeds where many others do not because he is able to make this aspect of the novel recede into what it truly is- the background.

Cather asserts that it would be beneficial for writers to be rid of the fluff that is sensory descriptions and bodily reactions, and leave only human emotion to be put under scrutiny in all its grandeur and all its simplicity. She cites the French writer Alexandre Dumas who was a notable force in modern social drama, and is criticized as being “realistic to a fault”. For Dumas, the stage was an arena in which to address controversial social problems and was quoted saying "If I am forbidden to carry on the stage the big questions that interest a living society, I prefer to stop writing." Cather found a comrade in Dumas and his exceedingly ‘realist’ plays which exemplified raw, emotional human interactions and situations freed from the flowery sentimentality and unnecessary details.

 Cather's article demonstrates one authors polarized view of the literary novel. Shaped by her experiences as a child and her own reaction to the war time, Cather's ideal literary world is one absent of all unneccessary fluff composed of physical and sensory descriptions or observations, and one that only leaves room for what is 'real'.

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