Writing American Literary History
Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994–2005, £495.00).
1590–1820 (1994, £70.00). Pp. xiii+829. ISBN 0 521 30105 [sq bullet, filled].
1820–1865 (1995, £75.00). Pp. xviii+887. ISBN 0 521 30106 8.
1860–1920 (2005, £80.00). Pp. xi+813. ISBN 0 521 30107 6.
1800–1910 (2004, £75.00). Pp. x+562. ISBN 0 521 30108 4.
1900–1950 (2003, £75.00). Pp. xi+624. ISBN 0 521 30109 2.
1910–1950 (2002, £70.00). Pp. xx+620. ISBN 0 521 49731 0.
1940–1990 (1999, £75.00). Pp. xxiii+795. ISBN 0 521 49732 9.
1940–1995 (1996, £75.00). Pp. viii+545. ISBN 0 521 49733 7.
|RICHARD GRAY a1|
a1 University of Essex, Colchester CO4 35Q and a Fellow of the British Academy.
Each generation needs to rewrite literary history. And it may be that this generation needs to do it more than most, if only because the proliferation of schools and theories has turned what was once common critical ground into a battlefield. American books, among others, have become a site of struggle, and American writers have been among those caught in the criss-crossing searchlights of ethnic and gender studies, interdisciplinary investigations and studies of popular culture, language and communication. Just how far things have gone can be measured by the fact that every term in the phrase “history of American literature,” is now open to debate. The textuality of history and the historicity of the text have become the most contentious issues in contemporary criticism, while the question of nationhood, in particular, is under scrutiny. In a famous phrase, Walt Whitman described his work as a language experiment, an attempt to summon a nation into being through words. The slippery, plural nature of American identity and the bewildering contingencies of American history that drove Whitman to say this feed into the more challenging of the recent accounts of American writing.
(Published Online July 27 2006)