Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(30) Rise of the American National Literature: Topics, Backgrounds, and Methods of the Early Nineteenth Century American Literature.

(Epics and Indian Captivity Narratives; W. Irving, J. F. Cooper, and St J. de Crevecoeur).


A m e r i c a n  N a t i o n a l  L i t e r a t u r e

[See "Background for Topic 30..."]


W a s h i n g t o n  I r v i n g  ( 1 7 8 3 – 1 8 5 9 )

L i f e :

- b. the y. the War ended, named after its most prominent hero

- grew up in a Federalist and Calvinist home in NY

- received little formal education x but: absorbed more enduring education from the city’s streets, and from merchant and seamen’s homespun tales

- associated with the Knickerbocker School

W o r k :

- a lifelong tension btw the lit. nationalism x the Eur. cultural forms

- neo-classical in style x but: employs humour, and a half-Romantic sensibility, melancholy, and the picturesque

N Y  P h a s e :

- treats directly and often satirically the absence of Am. cultural traditions

- his 1st publ. writing a series of essays satirising the Am. political, social, and lit. provincialism


- a series of pamphlets in the spirit of the Knickerbocker School

- an intellectual mixture of social criticism, lit. reviews, latest trends in politics and the theatre, and self-parody at the same time

History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker:

- his major work, a burlesque parody of the methods of contemp. historians, and of the short Am. history

- conc. with the NY’s Dutch colonial history

- admired for its technical skill and wit by W. Scott, G. G. Byron, and S. T. Coleridge

E u r o p e a n  P h a s e :

< the E Romantic poets and W. Scott

- a sense of dislocation <=> H. James and the ‘Lost Generation’ of E. Pound, T. S. Eliot, G. Stein, and E. Hemingway

- an urgent need to establ. a specifically Am. historical context

The Sketch Book:

- adapts the Eur.’s rich cultural heritage of local histories and legends to Am. settings

> “The Christmas Dinner” and “Westminster Abbey”: familiar essays nostalgically surveying the traditions of E life

> “Rip Van Winkle”, the 1st Am. tale based on a Ger. Legend, and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”: Americanised renditions of Eur. folktales

> “Christmas Eve”, “Peter the Headstrong”, and “The Author’s Account of Himself”

- becomes a lit. celebrity, the 1st Am. writer to draw international audience

=> helped to develop a short story

History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus:

- compares C.’s fate to his own = torn btw the Old World and the New

U S  P h a s e :

A Tour on the Prairies:

< his own experience of the tour through the Am. South and West

- shifts from a detached cynicism and reserve to the direct authorial participation

= establ. a distinctively Am. identity for himself

=> secured the legitimacy of Am. authorship

F i n a l  P h a s e :

Life of George Washington:

- a massive 5-vol. biography, a prose epic

- W.’s life = an instructive paradigm for Am. to re-create a distinguished past


J a m e s  F e n i m o r e  C o o p e r  ( 1 7 8 9 – 1 8 5 1 )

L i f e :

- b. in Cooperstown = founded and named by his father

> the source for his aristocratic view of the frontier and its inhabitants

> the model for the frontier setting of his The Pioneers

- his strong-willed father, a country gentleman, Federalist, and political and social conservative

- the tension with his father anticipated the tension in his writing

= the tension in the nation’s culture: desire for the personal and cultural originality x the luring of the establ. forms and inherited contexts

W o r k :

- aimed to produce a purely Am. work on the theme of love of country

F i c t i o n :

Precaution: an early novel of manners in the tradition of J. Austen

The Spy: set in the Revolutionary War; believed Am. history could be a suitable setting for fiction

‘The Leatherstocking Tales’:

- a series of the novels connected by the character Natty Bumppo = Hawkeye

- the name: from Hawkeye’s nickname based on his habit of wearing long deerskin leggings

- not publ. accord. to the regular course of their incidents

- a long interval of time btw the publ. of the 1st and the last novel

> The Pioneers: Hawkeye already old

> The Last of the Mohicans: H. in his 40s

> The Prairie: H. dies x but: the regard for the character induced the author to resuscitate him

> The Pathfinder: H. 2 y. older than in LOM

> The Deerslayer: H. in his 20s

- the chronology wrt to the character of H.: The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder, The Pioneers, and The Prairie

- a sense of loss: an impossible vision of the land gradually diminishes x but: remains a powerful imagined alternative to material progress

- articulated the Am. myth of the movement from old age to youth, and of the past’s continued presence:

‘The L. novels...go backwards from old age to golden youth. That is the true myth of America. She starts old, wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is gradual sloughing off of the old skin, twd a new youth. It is the myth of America.’ (D. H. Lawrence)

- defined the frontier as the primary fact of Am. history, and landscape as the fundamental reality of Am. life

- establ. the prototypical Am. hero: H. = the cultural mediator btw the wilderness x the civilisation

= a metaphor for C.’s own lit. achievement: a balanced existence receding ceaselessly into the past

> H. Melville’s Ishmael, M. Twain’s Huck Finn, W. Faulkner’s Ike McCaslin, and E. Hemingway’s protagonists

(–) his difficulty in style criticised by M. Twain and J. R. Lowell

The Pilot: a sea novel blending technical detail, memorable characters, and patriotic appeal to create a successful novel

> H. Melville and J. Conrad

The Red Rover, The Wept of Wishton-Wish, and The Water Witch: sea novels blending the Am. history and the life at sea

C r i t i c i s m :

(a) defends the Am. culture and democracy:

Notions of the Americans:

- a series of fictional letters from a sophisticated Eur.

(b) criticises the Am. social and political life:

- disappointed by President Jackson’s policies

- wrote to provide a moral leadership

- aristocratic ideals: the Am. life should be led by an elite minority, democracy should be in the possibility of social mobility, and this would elevate the best people to the positions of power

A Letter to His Countrymen

Gleanings in Europe

The American Democrat

Homeward Bound and Home as Found: expresses his ideals in fictional terms

C o n t r i b u t i o n :

- his life and work had already taken on mythic dimensions

- the 1st Am. novelist to and define native themes, settings, and characters

- launched distinct genres in Am. fiction: the Am. novel of manners, the sea novel, the Eur.-Am. novel, and the novel of the mythic frontier – his ‘The Leatherstocking Tales’

- opened new territories for Am. fiction: the nation’s past, frontier, and life at sea

- contrib. to the issues of Am. identity in his social criticism: the qualities of leadership, standards of excellence, and measures for minority and majority voices

ad The Last of the Mohicans:


- sentimental novel, adventure novel, and historical frontier romance:

(a) nature < Walter Scott’s ‘Weaverly novels’

(b) a quest and a journey = the saving of the ladies, preceded by a series of chases and narrow escapes

(c) the siege of Fort Henry: does not demonise the Fr., despite their failure to prevent the Ind. from attacking the E troops x but: the massacre of Fort Henry caused by the cultural difference btw the whites x the Ind., the guilt is also of the whites unable to control the Ind.’s behaviour


- the thematic line of a loss – with Unkas not only his tribe dies out x but: also the Ind. as such, Unkas and Chingackgook = kings without kingdoms

- the consequences of the westward movement of the civilisation, the clash of civilisation and wilderness, and the clash of cultures

- the shaping of the Am. culture – in the wilderness Duncan becomes an Am.

- the nostalgia of heroic times


- the Algonkin tribes in the the North East (the Delawares and the Mohicans [= Mahicans])

- the Iroquois tribes (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawks), Deganawida and Hiawatha founders of their federation

- the Hurons, the same language group (like Tuscarora and Cherokee in the South)


- David Gamut = a comic character – saves the ladies through singing

- Unkas and Chingackgook = Noble Savages – shocked by the massacre

- the Noble Savage = the Ind., a natural man believing in the distinctive folk indigenous culture

- the Man of no Cross [= of unmixed orig.] = an ideal hybrid

- the Loss = a metaphor for the rise and fall of civilisations, tragic x but: inevitable – a dying nation accompanied by the pathos of a loss

ad Hawkeye:

- in a moral sense purely a creation

- possessing little of civilisation x but: its highest principles

- too proud of his white orig. to sink into the condition of the wild Ind. x but: too much a man of the woods to absorb more than was desirable from his companions

- melts civilisation and wilderness = ‘a fit subject to repres. the better qualities of both conditions, without pushing either to extremes’

- his relig.: finds the impress of the Deity in all the works of nature

- his drawbacks: would become a ‘monster of goodness’ without any drawbacks of humanity

- reaction to some criticism objecting the picture of the red men being more favourable than he deserves: a privilege of romances to present the highest form of beauty [see the Preface to ‘The Leatherstocking Tales’]


S t  J o h n  D e  C r e v e c o e u r

[see C. under ‘29 Genres in the Lit. of Am. Rev.’]


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.

Other Sources

Peprník, Michal. Semináře: Americká literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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