Early American

  1. Calvinism in New England Puritan Culture
    The works of John Calvin (1509-1564), especially his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), were central to Puritan beliefs because they asked central questions: how do we acquire knowledge of God and of ourselves? According to Nicholas Wolterstorff in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy,Calvin believed that simply knowing truths about God did not, as the Scholastics would have it, mean the same thing as knowing God. Instead, individuals must cultivate this awareness of deity through examination of the seeds of divinity within each person as well as through contemplation of and reflection on the world. Sin, for Calvin, is the opposite of knowing God; and a corrupt reason and will can prevent this knowledge. Like John Winthrop (see "A Model of Christian Charity"), Calvin believed that an ideal government would be a republic in which power is balanced among magistrates and in which a competent ruling aristocracy is elected by the citizens.
  2. Early American Captivity Narratives
    According to Richard Slotkin, "In [a captivity narrative] a single individual, usually a woman, stands passively under the strokes of evil, awaiting rescue by the grace of God. The sufferer represents the whole, chastened body of Puritan society; and the temporary bondage of the captive to the Indian is dual paradigm-- of the bondage of the soul to the flesh and the temptations arising from original sin, and of the self-exile of the English Israel from England. In the Indian's devilish clutches, the captive had to meet and reject the temptation of Indian marriage and/or the Indian's "cannibal" Eucharist. To partake of the Indian's love or of his equivalent of bread and wine was to debase, to un-English the very soul. The captive's ultimate redemption by the grace of Christ and the efforts of the Puritan magistrates is likened to the regeneration of the soul in conversion. The ordeal is at once threatful of pain and evil and promising of ultimate salvation. Through the captive's proxy, the promise of a similar salvation could be offered to the faithful among the reading public, while the captive's torments remained to harrow the hearts of those not yet awakened to their fallen nature" (Regeneration Through Violence)

    Mary Rowlandson
  3. Concord, Massachusetts, 1810-1890
    • 1814 At age 11, Ralph Waldo Emerson comes to live with his grandparents at the Old Manse during the War of 181
    • 1817 Henry David Thoreau born in Concord on July 12.
    • 1828 Thoreau enters Concord Academy.
    • 1832 September 9. Emerson preaches the sermon that ends his career as a minister at the Second Church of Boston, saying that he was no longer "prepared to eat or drink religiously."
    • Emerson sets sail for Malta on Christmas Day; he travels to Syracuse, Palermo, Venice, France, England, and Scotland, returning in September.
    • 1833 Henry David Thoreau enters Harvard as a 16-year-old freshman.
    • 1834 Emerson returns to settle permanently in Concord
    • 1835 A few years after the death of his first wife, Ellen Tucker Emerson, Emerson marries Lydia Jackson of Plymouth and moves into the house on Cambridge Turnpike, his home for the rest of his life.
    • 1836 Emerson's Nature is published anonymously at the author's expense. Bronson Alcott's Conversations with Children on the Gospels is published and creates a firestorm of controversy over its alleged "indecency" and impiety. (A sympathetic review and a summary of Alcott's philosophy by Orestes Brownson.)
    • 1837 Emerson's "Concord Hymn" sung at dedication of battle monument at Old North Bridge.
    • 1838 Thoreau and his brother John found the private Concord Academy school.
    • 1839 After Alcott admits an African American student to his Temple School, white parents withdraw their children, and the school closes for good on June 22.
    • 1839-40 Hawthorne works as a salt and coal measurer at the Boston Custom House.
    • 1840 The Alcotts move to Concord and settle in Hosmer Cottage. Alcott takes up farming by day and writes at night. - Margaret Fuller and Emerson collaborate to publish the first issue of the Transcendental journal, The Dial. The first issue is published in July and includes several of Alcott's high-minded "Orphic Sayings," which are ridiculed as "a train of fifteen passenger cars with one passenger" (Matteson 94).
    • 1844 Emerson purchases "a wood lot by Walden Pond;" the Fitchburg Railroad lays tracks along Walden Pond and into Concord.
    • 1845. With a grant from Emerson and part of Abba Alcott's inheritance, the Alcotts buy a house known as the "old Cogswell place" on the Lexington road half a mile away from Emerson's house. They move in on April 1 and name the house Hillside
    • 1846 Concord's Anti-Slavery society with Emerson and Thoreau in attendance meet on the doorstep of Thoreau's cabin in Walden.- Hawthorne's collection of short stories, Mosses from an Old Manse, is published; Hawthorne is named the Surveyor of the Port of Salem, an experience he will later describe in "The Custom House," his long introduction to The Scarlet Letter.
    • 1848 November 17. Pressed for money, the Alcott family moves back to Boston, to various cramped apartments on Dedham Street, Groton Street, and High Street.
    • 1850 On July 19, together with her husband, Gabriel Ossoli, and their infant son, Margaret Fuller is drowned in a shipwreck off Fire Island on the south side of Long Island, New York.
    • 1851 May 3. Emerson delivers a powerful speech on the Fugitive Slave Law to the citizens of Concord. It says, in part: "An immoral law makes it a man's duty to break it . . . . Let us respect the Union to all honest ends. But also respect an older and a wider union, the law of Nature and rectitude. . . .[The Fugitive Slave Law must be] wiped out of the statute-book; but whilst it stands there, it must be disobeyed."
    • 1852 June 5. The Hawthornes, after sojourns in Salem and Lenox, Massachusetts, return to Concord, purchasing the Alcotts' home and renaming it The Wayside. While in Lenox, Hawthorne frequently visited HermanMelville, who lived at Arrowhead near Pittsfield at that time.
    • 1854 Thoreau publishes Walden; it puts the Concord woods on the world map.
    • 1856 Bronson Alcott and Thoreau travel to New York and Brooklyn. They hear Henry Ward Beecher preach on November 9, and on November 10, Alcott introduces Thoreau to Walt Whitman. According to Matteson, "Whitman was surprised at Throeau's indifference to current political events. Thoreau was taken aback by the sensuality of Whitman's conversation; he felt as if he were interviewing an animal" (229).
    • 1857 The Alcotts, after some years in Walpole, Connecticut, and Boston, return again to Concord. They purchase the John Moore house, which is located next to the Hawthornes' Wayside, in September and rename it "Orchard House." During repairs to Orchard House in the spring of 1858, they move into Wayside while the Hawthorne family is abroad.
    • 1859 Bronson Alcott is appointed superintendent of the Concord schools.
    • 1862 Thoreau dies of tuberculosis on May 6. Bronson Alcott dismisses the schools and hundreds attend Thoreau's interment at Authors' Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
    • 1864 Hawthorne dies while visiting Plymouth on May 19 and is buried near Thoreau.Mid-1860s. The future philosopher William James and future novelist Henry James live at Emerson's house (see below) while attending Frank Sanborn's academy. Emerson is William's godfather, and their classmates include Edward Emerson and Julian Hawthorne.
    • 1881 Walt Whitman visits Emerson in Concord and walks the Walden woods
    • 1882 Emerson dies on April 27; he is buried on Authors' Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
    • 1888 Bronson Alcott dies in Boston on March 4; Louisa May dies two days later on March 6 and is buried in the family plot in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
  4. The Jeremiad and the Conversion Narrative
    The term jeremiad refers to a sermon or another work that accounts for the misfortunes of an era as a just penalty for great social and moral evils, but holds out hope for changes that will bring a happier future. It derives from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, who in the seventh century B.C. attributed the calamities of Israel to its abandonment of the covenant with Jehovah and its return to pagan idolatry, denounced with "lurid and gloomy eloquence" its religious and moral iniquities, and called on the people to repent and reform in order that Jehovah might restore them to his favor and renew the ancient covenant.
  5. Domestic or Sentimental Fiction, 1820-1865
    Sometimes referred to as "sentimental fiction" or "woman's fiction," "domestic fiction" refers to a type of novel popular with women readers during the middle of the nineteenth century. The genre began with Catharine Sedgwick's New-England Tale (1822) and remained a dominant fictional type until after 1870. It derives in part from the eighteenth-century "sentimental novel" or "novel of sensibility," of which Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling (1771), Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), and one of the earliest American novels, The Power of Sympathy (1789), written by William Hill Brown but ascribed circa 1860 to Sarah Wentworth Morton (Feminist Companion to Literature in English 766), are examples. In their reliance on the inherent goodness of human nature and the power of feelings as a guide to right conduct, these novels were in part a reaction against Calvinistic doctrines that viewed humanity as inherently depraved.

    According to Nina Baym, who describes the genre in Woman's Fiction, the basic plot of woman's fiction involves "the story of a young girl who is deprived of the supports she had rightly or wrongly depended on to sustain her throughout life and is faced with the necessity of winning her own way in the world . . . . At the outset she takes herself very lightly--has no ego, or a damaged one, and looks to the world to coddle and protect her . . . .To some extent her expectations are reasonable--she thinks that her guardians will nurture her . . . But the failure of the world to satisfy either reasonable or unreasonable expectations awakens the heroine to inner possibilities. By the novel's end she has developed a strong conviction of her own worth as a result of which she does ask much of herself. She can meet her own demands, and, inevitably, the change in herself has changed the world's attitude toward her, so much that was formerly denied her now comes unsought" (Baym 19).

    • Catharine Maria Sedgwick
    • Caroline Lee (Whiting) Hentz
    • Maria Jane McIntosh
    • Susan Bogert Warner
    • E. D. E. N. Southworth
    • Ann Sophia Winterbotham Stephens
    • Maria Susanna Cummins
    • Caroline Chesebro
    • Mary Jane Holmes
    • Mary Virginia Hawes
  6. Regionalism and Local Color Fiction, 1865-1895
    Local color or regional literature is fiction and poetry that focuses on the characters, dialect, customs, topography, and other features particular to a specific region. Influenced by Southwestern and Down East humor, between the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century this mode of writing became dominant in American literature. According to the Oxford Companion to American Literature, "In local-color literature one finds the dual influence of romanticism and realism, since the author frequently looks away from ordinary life to distant lands, strange customs, or exotic scenes, but retains through minute detail a sense of fidelity and accuracy of description" (439). Its weaknesses may include nostalgia or sentimentality. Its customary form is the sketch or short story, although Hamlin Garland argued for the novel of local color.Regional literature incorporates the broader concept of sectional differences, although Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse have argued convincingly that the distinguishing characteristic that separates "local color" writers from "regional" writers is instead the exploitation of and condescension toward their subjects that the local color writers demonstrate.

    Setting: The emphasis is frequently on nature and the limitations it imposes; settings are frequently remote and inaccessible. The setting is integral to the story and may sometimes become a character in itself.

    Characters: Local color stories tend to be concerned with the character of the district or region rather than with the individual: characters may become character types, sometimes quaint or stereotypical. The characters are marked by their adherence to the old ways, by dialect, and by particular personality traits central to the region. In women's local color fiction, the heroines are often unmarried women or young girls.

    Narrator: The narrator is typically an educated observer from the world beyond who learns something from the characters while preserving a sometimes sympathetic, sometimes ironic distance from them. The narrator serves as mediator between the rural folk of the tale and the urban audience to whom the tale is directed.

    Plots. It has been said that "nothing happens" in local color stories by women authors, and often very little does happen. Stories may include lots of storytelling and revolve around the community and its rituals.

    Themes: Many local color stories share an antipathy to change and a certain degree of nostalgia for an always-past golden age. A celebration of community and acceptance in the face of adversity characterizes women's local color fiction. Thematic tension or conflict between urban ways and old-fashioned rural values is often symbolized by the intrusion of an outsider or interloper who seeks something from the community.

    Rose Terry Cooke Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Sarah Orne Jewett Rowland Robinson Philander Deming Alice CaryAlice Brown (works)Celia Thaxter

    Mary N. Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock)In the Tennessee Mountains (1885) Kate Chopin Grace King George Washington Cable Alice Dunbar-Nelson Ruth McEnery Stuart (1856-1917)In Simpkinsville (1897)(new URL)Constance Fenimore Woolson Charles W. Chesnutt, Thomas Nelson Page Joel Chandler Harris James Lane Allen.
  7. Puritan Meditation Tradition
    • The art of Puritan devotion was basically a method for channeling emotion into verbal structures--a poetic method
    • According to Ann Stanford, the process of meditation involves the "vivid picturing in the imagination of a scene called the 'composition of place.' The scene may be drawn from the Old or New Testaments, the details of the life of Christ, the terrors of hell, or a more present situation. . . . . After imagining a scene, or seeing the subject of meditation before one in the fields, the meditator draws arguments from it regarding eternal truths or his own relation to God. The last step is a colloquy with God or with the creature, theoretically involving the will, in which the meditator determines to have more faith, to cease from sin, to abide by God's law, or comes to some moral discernment" ("Anne Bradstreet" 50).

    n this schema, Man was seen as a "receptor" to divine will. A sense impression would be carried to 1. Common Sense, which identified it; 2. Imagination, which gave it imagery; 3. Memory, which stored it; 4. Understanding, which judged it; 5. Will (in heart), which embraced or rejected it. 6. The Will directed the Affections accordingly.
  8. Naturalism in American Literature
    The term naturalism describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Unlike realism, which focuses on literary technique, naturalism implies a philosophical position: for naturalistic writers, since human beings are, in Emile Zola's phrase, "human beasts," characters can be studied through their relationships to their surroundings. Zola's 1880 description of this method in Le roman experimental (The Experimental Novel, 1880) follows Claude Bernard's medical model and the historian Hippolyte Taine's observation that "virtue and vice are products like vitriol and sugar"--that is, that human beings as "products" should be studied impartially, without moralizing about their natures. Other influences on American naturalists include Herbert Spencer and Joseph LeConte.

    Frank Norris Theodore Dreiser Jack London Stephen Crane Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)
  9. Plantation Tradition in Local Color Fiction
    The term "plantation tradition" applies to works that look back nostalgically to the times before the Civil War, before the "Lost Cause" of the Southern Confederacy was lost, as a time when an idealized, well-ordered agrarian world and its people held certain values in common, among them chivalry toward women, courage, integrity, and honorable conduct among gentlemen, and pride in and loyalty toward one's region. Works in this tradition employed the metaphor of a plantation "family" with white and African American members, all of whom felt deep bonds of loyalty to one another, with the white master as the head of this patriarchal system. In keeping with its hierarchical ideals, stories of this tradition frequently portrayed African Americans as happier and better off under slavery than they would be (or, later, were) if they were free. Within this system exists the racist stereotype of the "happy darky."

    George Tucker, The Valley of the Shenandoah (1824)John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870), The Swallow Barn (1832), although he later supported the Union cause during the Civil War in Mr. Ambrose's Letters on the Rebellion (1865).Caroline Lee Hentz (1800-1856), Linda; or the Young Pilot of the Belle Creole. A Tale of Southern Life (1850);The Planter's Northern Bride(1857).Late Nineteenth CenturyThomas Nelson Page (1853-1922), In Ole Virginia, or Marse Chan and Other Stories. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895 . See especially "Marse Chan," a story frequently anthologized, and Social Life in Old Virginia before the War (1887)Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings (1881) and several other collections of Uncle Remus stories. The frame stories--an elderly African-American narrator telling tales to a young white boy--recall the plantation tradition, but the tales themselves, which are based on black folktales, are frequently subversive of the tradition. Harris's "Free Joe and the Rest of the World" is a clear example of this tradition.Thomas Dixon (1864-1946). The best-known examples of his more than twenty novels-- The Leopard's Spots (1902), The Clansman (1905), andThe Traitor (1907)--represent his racist and extremely conservative political views; the middle volume of this trilogy, The Clansman, is the basis for D. W. Griffith's 1915 epic motion picture The Birth of a Nation.James Battle Avirett, The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin Before the War (1901; memoir)
  10. Puritanism in New England
    Several beliefs differentiated Puritans from other Christians. The first was their belief in predestination. Puritans believed that belief in Jesus and participation in the sacraments could not alone effect one's salvation; one cannot choose salvation, for that is the privilege of God alone. All features of salvation are determined by God's sovereignty, including choosing those who will be saved and those who will receive God's irresistible grace. The Puritans distinguished between "justification," or the gift of God's grace given to the elect, and "sanctification," the holy behavior that supposedly resulted when an individual had been saved; according to The English Literatures of America, "Sanctification is evidence of salvation, but does not cause it" (434). When William Laud, an avowed Arminian, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, the Church of England began to embrace beliefs abhorrent to Puritans: a focus on the individual's acceptance or rejection of grace; a toleration of diverse religious beliefs; and an acceptance of "high church" rituals and symbols.
  11. Realism in American Literature, 1860-1890
    Broadly defined as "the faithful representation of reality" or "verisimilitude," realism is a literary technique practiced by many schools of writing. Although strictly speaking, realism is a technique, it also denotes a particular kind of subject matter, especially the representation of middle-class life. A reaction against romanticism, an interest in scientific method, the systematizing of the study of documentary history, and the influence of rational philosophy all affected the rise of realism. According to William Harmon and Hugh Holman, "Where romanticists transcend the immediate to find the ideal, and naturalists plumb the actual or superficial to find the scientific laws that control its actions, realists center their attention to a remarkable degree on the immediate, the here and now, the specific action, and the verifiable consequence"

    Mark TwainWilliam Dean HowellsRebecca Harding DavisJohn W. DeForestJoseph KirklandE. W. HoweHamlin GarlandHenry James
  12. Novel
    Doubtless the main difference between the novel and the romance is in the way in which they view reality. The novel renders reality closely and in comprehensive detail. It takes a group of people and set them going about the business of life. We come to see these people in their real complexity of temperament and motive. They are in explicable relation to nature, to each other, to their social class, to their own past. Character is more important than action and plot, and probably the tragic or comic actions of the narrative will have the primary purpose of enhancing our knowledge of and feeling for an important character, a group of characters, or a way of life. The events that occur will usually be plausible, given the circumstances, and if the novelist includes a violent or sensational occurrence in his plot, he will introduce it only into such scenes as have been (in the words of Percy Lubbock) "already prepared to vouch for it." Historically, as it has often been said, the novel has served the interests and aspirations of an insurgent middle class
  13. Romance
    By contrast the romance, following distantly the medieval example, feels free to render reality in less volume and detail. It tends to prefer action to character, and action will be freer in a romance than in a novel, encountering, as it were, less resistance from reality. (This is not always true, as we see in what might be called the static romances of Hawthorne, in which the author uses the allegorical and moral, rather than the dramatic, possibilities of the form.) The romance can flourish without providing much intricacy of relation. The characters, probably rather two-dimensional types, will not be complexly related to each other or to society or to the past. Human beings will on the whole be shown in an ideal relation--that is, they will share emotions only after these have become abstract or symbolic. To be sure, characters may become profoundly involved in some way, as in Hawthorne or Melville, but it will be a deep and narrow, an obsessive, involvement. In American romances it will not matter much what class people come from, and where the novelist would arouse our interest in a character by exploring his origin, the romancer will probably do so by enveloping it in mystery. Character itself becomes, then, somewhat abstract and ideal, so much so in some romances that it seems to be merely a function of plot. The plot we may expect to be highly colored. Astonishing events may occur, and these are likely to have a symbolic or ideological, rather than a realistic, plausibility. Being less committed to the immediate rendition of reality than the novel, the romance will more freely veer toward mythic, allegorical, and symbolistic forms. --Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition
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