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The Problem of American Realism

Studies in the Cultural History of a Literary Idea

Ever since William Dean Howells declared his "realism war" in the 1880s, literary historians have regarded the rise of realism and naturalism as the signal development in post-Civil War American fiction. Questioning this generalization, Michael Davitt Bell investigates the role that these terms played in the social and literary discourse of the 1880s and 1890s. He argues that "realism" and "naturalism" were ideological categories used to promote a version of "reality" based on radically anti-"literary" and heavily gendered assumptions.

In chapters on William Dean Howells, Frank Norris, Mark Twain, Henry James, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and Sarah Orne Jewett, Bell examines the effects that ideas about realism and naturalism had on writers. He demonstrates that, for many of them, claiming to be a realist or a naturalist was a way to provide assurance that one was a "real" man rather than an "effeminate" artist.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1993

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Table of Contents

Introduction: American Realism
Pt. 1: The First Generation: William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Henry James
1: The Sin of Art: William Dean Howells
The Problem of Howellsian Realism
The Road to Realism
A Portrait of the Artist as a "Real" Man
The Problem of American Realism
2: Humor, Sentiment, Realism: Mark Twain
Mark Twain as Critic
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
3: Artist Fables: Henry James’s Realist Phase
A Different Road/A Different Realism
Realism and Reform
Naturalism, Impressionism, Revolution
Pt. 2: The Problem of Naturalism: Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser
4: The Revolt against Style: Frank Norris
The Road to Naturalism
Naturalism and Style
5: Irony, Parody, and "Transcendental Realism": Stephen Crane
The Language of the Street
Words of War
6: Fine Styles of Sympathy; Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie
Dreiser and American Naturalism
Condescension and Identification
Pt. 3: A "Woman’s Place" in American Realism: Sarah Orne Jewett
7: Local Color and Realism: Sarah Orne Jewett
Jewett’s Place in American Realism
Maine Person and Boston Professional
Realism, Feminism, and the World of Dunnet Landing

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