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Realism in American Literature. B. Harte, M. Twain, H. James, K. Chopin and others.
In 1860, most Americans lived on farms or in small villages, but by 1919 half of the population was concentrated in about 12 cities. Problems of urbanization and industrialization appeared: poor and overcrowded housing, unsanitary conditions, low pay, difficult working conditions, and inadequate restraints on business. Labor unions grew, and strikes brought the plight of working people to national awareness. The farmer gradually became an object of ridicule, lampooned as an unsophisticated "hick" or "rube." Am. Realism was a turn of the century idea in art, music and literature that showed through these different types of work, reflections of the time period. Whether it was a cultural portrayal, or a scenic view of downtown New York City, these images and works of music depicted a contemporary view of what was happening; an attempt at defining what was real. In this article, artists and musicians alike will be accredited and discussed for their contribution to the idea of realism in the Am. setting. Each though slightly different in concept or subject was defining what was going on in front of his or her eyes, without imagining a past or a future. In the original version of this article, it stated that Am. Realism was a Neoclassical movement borrowing from ancient classical interpretations of art and architecture. This statement is false. Am. Realism was actually the quite opposite, & instead of reflecting back to antiquities, artists and musicians were concerned with the grit and reality of the early 20th century.
Francis Bret Harte (1836–1902) was an Am. author and poet, best remembered for his accounts of pioneering life in California. He is remembered as the author of adventurous stories such as "The Luck of Roaring Camp" and "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," set along the western mining frontier. As the first great success in the local colorist school, Harte for a brief time was perhaps the best-known writer in America -- such was the appeal of his romantic version of the gunslinging West. Outwardly realistic, he was one of the first to introduce low-life characters -- cunning gamblers, gaudy prostitutes, and uncouth robbers -- into serious literary works. He got away with this by showing in the end that these seeming derelicts really had hearts of gold. He spent part of his life in the northern California coast town now known as Arcata, at the time it was just a mining camp on Humboldt Bay. His first literary efforts, including poetry and prose, appeared in The Californian, an early literary journal edited by Charles Henry Webb. In 1868 he became editor of The Overland Monthly, another new literary magazine, but this one more in tune with the pioneering spirit of excitement in California. His story, "The Luck of Roaring Camp," appeared in the magazine's second edition, propelling Harte to nationwide fame. When word of Dickens' death reached Bret Harte in July of 1870, he immediately sent a dispatch across the bay to San Francisco to hold back the forthcoming publication of his Overland Monthly for twenty-four hours, so that he could compose the poetic tribute, Dickens in Camp. This work is considered by many of Harte's admirers as his masterpiece of verse, for its evident sincerity, the depth of feeling it displays, and the unusual quality of its poetic expression.During the thirty years he spent in Europe, he never abandoned writing, and maintained a prodigious output of stories that retained the freshness of his earlier work. He died in England in 1902 & is buried at Frimley. In 1987 he appeared on a $5 U.S. Postage stamp, as part of the "Great Americans" Series of issues.
Henry James (1843-1916) once wrote that art, especially literary art, "makes life, makes interest, makes importance." James's fiction and criticism is the most highly conscious, sophisticated, and difficult of its era. With Twain, James is generally ranked as the greatest Am.novelist of the second half of the 19th century. James is noted for his "international theme" -- that is, the complex relationships between native Americans and cosmopolitan Europeans. His works - Transatlantic Sketches(travel pieces, 1875), The American (1877), Daisy Miller (1879),and a masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady (1881).James's second period was experimental. He exploited new subject matters -- feminism and social reform in The Bostonians (1886) and political intrigue in The Princess Casamassima (1885). The complex and almost mythical The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), & The Golden Bowl (1904)date from this major period. If the main theme of Twain's work is appearance and reality, James's constant concern is perception. In James, only self-awareness and clear perception of others yields wisdom and self-sacrificing love. As James develops, his novels become more psychological & less concerned with external events. In James's later works, the most important events are all psychological -- usually moments of intense illumination that show characters their previous blindness. F.e., in The Ambassadors, the idealistic, aging Lambert Strether uncovers a secret love affair and, in doing so, discovers a new complexity to his inner life. His rigid, upright, morality is humanized and enlarged as he discovers a capacity to accept those who have sinned. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 — April 21, 1910), better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer. He grew up in the Mississippi River frontier town of Hannibal, Missouri. Ernest Hemingway's famous statement that all of Am. lit-re comes from one great book, Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, indicates this author's towering place in the tradition. Twain's style, based on vigorous, realistic, colloquial American speech, gave American writers a new appreciation of their national voice. Twain was the first major author to come from the interior of the country, and he captured its distinctive, humorous slang and iconoclasm. For Twain and other Am. writers of the late 19th century, realism was not merely a literary technique: It was a way of speaking truth and exploding worn-out conventions. Thus it was profoundly liberating and potentially at odds with society. The most well-known example is Huck Finn, a poor boy who decides to follow the voice of his conscience and help a Negro slave escape to freedom, even though Huck thinks this means that he will be damned to hell for breaking the law. Huckleberry Finn has inspired countless literary interpretations. Clearly, the novel is a story of death, rebirth, and initiation. The escaped slave, Jim, becomes a father figure for Huck; in deciding to save Jim, Huck grows morally beyond the bounds of his slave-owning society. It is Jim's adventures that initiate Huck into the complexities of human nature and give him moral courage. The novel also dramatizes Twain's ideal of the harmonious community. Adventures of Tom Sawyer (which had no particular social message), it has also been the continued object of study by serious literary critics. Although the Southern society it satirized was already a quarter-century in the past by the time of publication, the book immediately became controversial, and has remained so to this day (see "Controversy" below).
30. Naturalism & realism. S. Crane, F. Norris, E. Wharton
Naturalism is a movement in theater, film, and literature that seeks to replicate a believable everyday reality, as opposed to such movements as Romanticism or Surrealism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment. Like Romanticism, naturalism first appeared in Europe. In the United States, the genre is associated principally with writers such as Abraham Cahan, Ellen Glasgow, David Graham Phillips, Jack London, and most prominently Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser. The term naturalism operates primarily in counter distinction to realism, particularly the mode of realism codified in the 1870s and 1880s, and associated with William Dean Howells and Henry James. Like the cosmopolitan novelists, but much more explicitly, these naturalists used realism to relate the individual to society. Often they exposed social problems and were influenced by Darwinian thought and the related philosophical doctrine of determinism, which views individuals as the helpless pawns of economic and social forces beyond their control. Naturalism is essentially a literary expression of determinism. Associated with bleak, realistic depictions of lower-class life, determinism denies religion as a motivating force in the world and instead perceives the universe as a machine. Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers had also imagined the world as a machine, but as a perfect one, invented by God and tending toward progress and human betterment. Naturalists imagined society, instead, as a blind machine, godless and out of control. Naturalism flourished as Americans became urbanized and aware of the importance of large economic and social forces.
American Realism was a turn of the century idea in art, music and literature that showed through these different types of work, reflections of the time period. Whether it was a cultural portrayal, or a scenic view of downtown New York City, these images and works of music depicted a contemporary view of what was happening; an attempt at defining what was real. In this article, artists and musicians alike will be accredited and discussed for their contribution to the idea of realism in the American setting. Each though slightly different in concept or subject was defining what was going on in front of his or her eyes, without imagining a past or a future. In the original version of this article, it stated that American Realism was a Neoclassical movement borrowing from ancient classical interpretations of art and architecture. This statement is false. American Realism was actually the quite opposite, and instead of reflecting back to antiquities, artists and musicians were concerned with the grit and reality of the early 20th century.
Edith Wharton (1862-1937)grew up partly in Europe and eventually made her home there. She was descended from a wealthy, established family in New York society and saw firsthand the decline of this cultivated group and, in her view, the rise of boorish, nouveau-riche business families. This social transformation is the background of many of her novels. Wharton contrasts Americans and Europeans. The core of her concern is the gulf separating social reality and the inner self. Often a sensitive character feels trapped by unfeeling characters or social forces. Edith Wharton had personally experienced such entrapment as a young writer suffering a long nervous breakdown partly due to the conflict in roles between writer and wife. Wharton's best novels include The House of Mirth (1905), The Custom of the Country (1913), Summer (1917), The Age of Innocence (1920), and the beautifully crafted novella Ethan Frome (1911).
Stephen Crane (1871-1900)born in New Jersey, had roots going back to Revolutionary War soldiers, clergymen, sheriffs, judges, and farmers who had lived a century earlier. Primarily a journalist who also wrote fiction, essays, poetry, and plays, Crane saw life at its rawest, in slums and on battlefields. His short stories -- in particular, "The Open Boat," "The Blue Hotel," and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" -- exemplified that literary form. His haunting Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, was published to great acclaim in 1895, but he barely had time to bask in the attention before he died, at 29, having neglected his health. He was virtually forgotten during the first two decades of the 20th century, but was resurrected through a laudatory biography by Thomas Beer in 1923. He has enjoyed continued success ever since -- as a champion of the common man, a realist, and a symbolist. Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) is one of the best, if not the earliest, naturalistic American novels. It is the harrowing story of a poor, sensitive young girl whose uneducated, alcoholic parents utterly fail her. In love and eager to escape her violent home life, she allows herself to be seduced into living with a young man, who soon deserts her. When her self-righteous mother rejects her, Maggie becomes a prostitute to survive, but soon commits suicide out of despair. Crane's earthy subject matter and his objective, scientific style, devoid of moralizing, earmark Maggie as a naturalist work.
Benjamin Franklin Norris (1870 – 1902) was an American novelist, during the Progressive Era, writing predominantly in the naturalist genre. His notable works include McTeague (1899), The Octopus: A California Story (1901), and The Pit (1903). Although he did not support socialism as a political system, his work nevertheless evinces a socialist mentality and influenced socialist/progressive writers such as Upton Sinclair. Like many of his contemporaries, he was profoundly influenced by the advent of Darwinism, and Thomas Henry Huxley's philosophical defense of it. Through many of his novels, notably McTeague, runs a preoccupation with the notion of the civilized man overcoming the inner "brute", his animalistic tendencies. His peculiar, and often confused, brand of Social Darwinism also bears the influence of the early criminologist Cesare Lombroso.
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