[lit-ideas] 1850-55 literature compared to 1900-05 literature

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 2 Nov 2006 21:13:01 -0800

Miller on page 209 of Salem is my Dwelling Place wrote that Emerson's
"Nature, which on its publication in 1836 became one of the landmarks of
American life and literature, comparable in significance to the appearance
of The Scarlet Letter (1850), Moby-Dick (1851), Walden (1854), and Leaves of
Grass (1855)."  Upon reading this, my mind went off on a tangent in true
Lit-Ideas fashion and I wondered if there was any other six-year period in
American history that witnessed the production of such significant literary
achievements.  Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau and Whitman wrote other things
before and after this period, but the works listed are their greatest.  

 

I found a literary chronology
(http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/timefram.html ) and found nothing
comparable until I got to the 1900-1905 period.  We find Dreiser's Sister
Carrie (1900), Norris The Octopus (1901),  and then in 1902 we have
Tarbell's History of the Standard Oil Company, Sinclair's The Jungle, James
The Wings of the Dove, and Wister's The Virginian; in 1903 we have James The
Ambassadors, London's The Call of the Wild, and Norris' The Pit; in 1904 we
have James The Golden Bowl, and London's The Sea Wolf; and in 1905,
Wharton's The House of Mirth.  

 

I am partial to the muckrakers, but perhaps they must be discounted as
producers of first-rate literature.  None of them measure up to The Scarlet
Letter or Moby Dick, and perhaps none of Dreiser's, London's, Wister's or
Wharton's works do either; which leaves just James as producing first rate
novels.  Do The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl
trump the four works of 1850-55?  Hmmm.  I could argue that different ways
on different days.  Any opinions?

 

Lawrence

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