This volume covers a pivotal era in the formation of American identity. Four leading scholars connect the literature with the massive historical changes then underway. Richard Brodhead describes the foundation of a permanent literary culture in America. Nancy Bentley locates the origins of nineteenth century Realism in an elite culture's responses to an emergent mass culture, embracing high literature (writers like William Dean Howells and Henry James) as well as a wide spectrum of cultural outsiders: African Americans, women, and Native Americans. Walter Benn Michaels emphasizes the critical role that turn-of-the-century fiction played in the re-evaluation of the individual at the advent of modern bureaucracy. Susan L. Mizruchi analyzes the literary responses to a new national heterogeneity that helped shape the multicultural future of modern America. Together, these narratives constitute the richest, most detailed account to date of American literature and culture between 1860 and 1920.
Sacvan Bercovitch is Powell M. Cabot Research Professor of American Literature at Harvard University.