The Literary Response (i)

  • Michael Spindler


The dominant mode of fiction before the Civil War had been romance. James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘Leatherstocking Tales’ which include The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Deerslayer (1841) are romantic in conception and form and concern themselves with man and nature on the frontier, that is to say, on the periphery of normal social life. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) is an epic romance whose heroes are those we would expect of mid-nineteenth-century America — the hunters, exploiters and economic adventurers (for Ahab is one of these too). As we would further expect, the relationship that is emphasised is the one between man and nature, an ambivalent relationship, violent and oppositional at one pole and mystical and unifying at the other. Also, since it is an epic in a democratic society, it celebrates equality through the fellowship of the different races aboard the Pequod and individualism through Ahab’s self-reliance and single-mindedness of purpose.1


Century Urbanisation Documentary Source Oriented Phase Literary Response Ambivalent Relationship 
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  1. 1.
    See Richard Chase, The American Novel and its Tradition (New York: 1957), for a discussion of the place of romance in the American novel.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Henry James, Hawthorne (1879, London: 1967) pp. 22, 23, 55, 110, 119.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    T. B. Bottomore, Classes in Modern Society (London: 1965) p. 42.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (Harmondsworth: 1972) pp. 66, 78–9.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Dreiser describes the impact of his journalistic work on his conception of society and literature in the second part of his autobiography, A Book About Myself (1922, Greenwich, Conn: 1965); John A. Jackson draws attention to the influence of journalism in ‘Sociology and Literary Studies I, The Map of Society: America in the 1890s’, Journal of American Studies, 3 (1969) 103–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Blanche Gelfant, The American City Novel (second edition, Norman, Oklahoma: 1970), for a study of the city novel as a special genre, and also Morton and Lucia White, The Intellectual Versus the City, for an examination of the ambivalent responses of Howells, Norris and Dreiser towards the city. Frank Norris’s The Octopus (1901) is a notable exception in taking an agrarian locale for its setting, though its subject — the futile struggle of the independent farmer-businessman against the trusts — is a socially representative one.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    William Dean Howells, A Hazard of New Fortunes (London: 1965) p. 63.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Quoted by Edwin H. Cady, The Realist at War: The Mature Years 1885–1920 of William Dean Howells, (Syracuse: 1958) p. 52. Through articles and reviews in The Atlantic Monthly and through his own novels Howells waged a campaign against romance (of the degraded, sentimental variety) and for realism throughout the 1880s and 1890s. He fostered the young talents of Crane and Norris among others and became the man to whom more youthful writers could look as the image of literary integrity and success. See Edwin H. Cady, The Road to Realism: The Early Years 1837–1885 of William Dean Howells (Syracuse: 1956) P. 222.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Howells, ‘Criticism and Fiction’, in Clara and Rudolf Kirk (eds), Criticism and Fiction and Other Essays (New York: 1959) p. 51.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Emile Zola, Thérèse Raquin, translated by L. Tancock (Harmondsworth: 1962) p. 22.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    See Stanislav Andreski (ed.), Structure, Function and Evolution: A Selection of Spencers Writings (London: 1971) p. 121 and passim. Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Collected in Theodore Dreiser, Hey, Rub-A-Dub-Dub (1925, London: 1931) p. 128.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Engels, ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’, in Marx and Engels, Selected Works (London: 1968) p. 388.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (private publication, 1906, Boston: 1918);Google Scholar
  15. Thorstein Veblen, The Instinct of Workmanship (1914, reprinted New York: 1964).Google Scholar

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© Michael Spindler 1983

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  • Michael Spindler

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