The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

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Ernest Hemingway E u g e n e G o o dh ea rt Djuna Barnes Al e x G o o dy Zora Neale Hurston L oval e ri e Ki n g Richard Wright W i l l i am D ow Raymond Chandler L e o n ard Cas s u to Ralph Ellison D avi d Yaf f e Salinger S arah G raha m Patricia Highsmith Joan S ch e n k a r Vladimir Nabokov Ju l i an W. Jack Kerouac Jo s h ua Ku p et z Kurt Vonnegut T o d d D avi s John Updike Jam e s S ch i f f Thomas Pynchon D avi d S e e d Toni Morrison Val e ri e S m i t h Aarons has published essays and book chapters in a variety of volumes and ref- erence works, including The Call of Memory: Learning about the Holocaust through Narrative and the two-volume compendium Holocaust Literature: An Encyclopedia of Writers and Their Work.

Cassuto is also an award-winning journalist, writing about subjects ranging from sports to the sci- entific search for room-temperature semiconductors. He has written more than seventy articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature. He is currently completing a book-length study on American modernism and radicalism entitled Reinventing Persuasion: Literary Journalism and the American Radical Tradition, — He is the author of ten books of fiction, most recently Fugue State Coffee House Press, , as well as a critical study on Robert Coover.

She has also coedited American Modernism: Cultural Trans- actions and is the author of numerous chapters and articles on modernist women, New York Dada, modernist drama, contemporary poetry, and the work of Djuna Barnes and Mina Loy. Her research focuses on American texts from the modernist period to the contem- porary.

Her main publications to date have focused on the works of H. Hilda Doolittle and J.

Staff View: The Cambridge Companion to American Gothic /

Salinger, and she has ongoing research interests in American novels and short stories, s to the present, particularly representations of ado- lescence and of the AIDS epidemic. She has published essays on H. Her current projects include a handbook of African American fiction and a book-length critical examination of The Wire through the lens of ethics.

He has also written books on narrative theory and the American novel and on Ernest Hemingway. Louis, has published widely on American Renaissance authors and has contributed to the Cambridge Companions to Melville and Emerson. Scott Fitzgerald Society, which she cofounded in She has published widely on F. Scott Fitzgerald as well as on Ernest Hemingway; J.

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She lives and writes in Paris and Greenwich Village. He is the author or editor of five books on contemporary American fiction, including John Updike Revisited and Understanding Reynolds Price. She also writes on film and is currently working on cinematic adaptations of three contemporary American novels.


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Her research and teaching interests include African American literature and culture, black feminist theory, autobiography, black film, and twentieth- and twenty-first century U. At present, she is completing a book on the civil rights movement in cultural memory. The Society for the Study of Southern Literature chose Becoming Faulkner as the best book on south- ern literature written in , bestowing on it their Hugh Holman Award. When Miguel de Cervantes wrote arguably the first novel, the globe was still terra incognita.

The novel has charted the relationship between an individual consciousness and the world around it. Previous heroes such as Achilles, Odysseus, or Aeneas fulfilled their destiny; they did not create it. The prospect that an individual could fashion him- self as a protagonist, a hero, without the consent or even the interest of the gods and despite the prevailing wisdom of social institutions such as the church was the beginning of a new conception of identity. These two inventions have always been intertwined. The history of the American novel tells us over and over that America has never been discovered but is ceaselessly being invented.

The history of the form connects these writ- ers to one another, even if their works were fashioned from different ver- naculars and cultural assumptions. Novels are at once a specific literary form and a living place that readers inhabit through their shared imaginations, cultures, and histories. The American novel is an ongoing literary practice that engages a material real- ity, but it is more fundamentally an imaginary construct, an invention.

Rather than identifying the precise origin of the American novel, it is worth recalling that the novel evolved as a literary form for expressing a new sense of the individual consciousness at roughly the same historic moment in which America, or the United States, was evolving as a material form for expressing new European understandings about science, political theory, and religion. In the Old World the novel was written over existing literary forms; in the New World, the novel was an indigenous form, born with and alongside America itself.


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As a genre, the novel arises out of the particular and carries the particular with it, a generic fact that has been fundamen- tal to the way in which the American novel has developed and flourished. Despite the inevitable and important differences among American novelists, there remains the feeling that American novelists self-consciously engage the invention of their own national story in ways that classic English or French novels do not. In this respect, American novelists are always in conversation with each other through their competing inventions of American reality.

In its inception during the eighteenth century, the United States was under- stood to mark a radical departure from existing forms of government. Its government was an experiment that promised to do away with antiquated forms of authority and would instead place its power in the hands of the many rather than the few. Its society was conceived less as an experiment in community than as something that would protect and further the possibili- ties of individual Americans.

Although Emerson was a near neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, he did not anticipate that the American novel would provide the form in which his questions would receive their most thorough analysis and most lasting expression. More than one hundred and fifty years after Emerson first outlined his exceptionalist view of American culture, scholars rightly point out the con- tradictions inherent in an exceptionalist understanding of American history.

The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton

While the new American nation was predicated upon congeries of contra- dictions that disguised the fundamental inequality of American society, it is equally important that we recognize that as a historical and political entity the United States of America came into being as a type of human invention. Clearly, the form that the novel has taken in America inevitably emerges from the shifting cultural, geographic, and material reality that is America, but it does so to pose American reality as its own invention.

American material reality makes this wish impossible, but the living desire to fuse an ideal of America with the aesthetic possibilities of the novel gives the American novel its aura of continuity. Any critical anthology of American novelists can only be a snapshot of always changing literary practices and cultural orientations. Critical tastes shift violently.

There is always a battle between what the past seemed to say about itself and what the present has determined it needs to say about the past. Certainly, Absalom, Absalom! The most basic point about a novel is that it constitutes a literary form that can be practiced potentially by any person of any nation- ality and as a work of art need not be known by labels of nationality. The narrative innovations of these authors helped to define the his- tory of the form, while their stories have remained persistently relevant to readers and would-be writers of new versions of the American literary and cultural tradition their works embody.

Variety of aesthetic preoccupation and cultural experience is to be expected of a form that has been tested by artists of different historical periods and aesthetic temperaments over a long period. While the writers in this Companion clearly respond to the history of the novel as a particular form and ongoing possibility, their works achieve a certain collective resonance when read against each other as the work of American novelists.

The proverbial Great American Novel has many incarnations, by more novelists than this volume can contain. Some readers may be disappointed not to find a chapter devoted to a favorite and deserving author, living or dead, but the absence of that author should not be con- strued as a lasting literary judgment. Living authors born before World War II have been included to indicate and make accessible to readers, stu- dents, and experts the continuing vitality and the living continuity of the American novel. The purpose of this book is not to entomb the tradition of the American novel.

What matters is that even as new writers and voices, dead or living, enter or fall out of the conversation that constitutes the tradi- tion of American novelists, the conversation does exist and it continues.

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Five hundred years ago, Don Quixote set out on a comic quest to explore the limits of his own identity against the changing world of his time. Quixote never left Spain, but the new narrative form that contained his story traveled to the New World, where it was taken up by American novelists seeking to define the limitations and possibilities of their American world. As the author of the five novels that constitute the Leatherstocking Tales, Cooper created a mythology of American identity and history that revealed, in D.

Ralph Ellison argued that the moral tradition of the American novel begins with the recognition that a society that was forever proclaiming its commitment to equality and freedom nonetheless was rooted in the prac- tice of slavery. Perhaps more obviously than any other American writer, Twain marks the intersection where other American novel- ists have found direction and meaning.

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