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Critical Reception and Reputation Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frank Norris, and Edith Wharton.

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Presentation on theme: "Critical Reception and Reputation Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frank Norris, and Edith Wharton."— Presentation transcript:

1 Critical Reception and Reputation Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frank Norris, and Edith Wharton

2 Broad Trends in American Literary Criticism Beginnings through the 1920s – Textual criticism and book history approaches (still important): editions and their quality, differences among editions, reception history – “Appreciation” (book reviews) Judging the plot and characters Promoted morality and maintained the bounds of good taste? True to life?

3 Broad Trends, 1920s-1950s Techniques derived from (Russian) formalism: elements of structure, symmetry, and the functions of various elements in the text Enabled interpretation of fragmented modernist texts Techniques derived from (French) symbolistes and representations of the unconscious – Freud and Jung (archetypes and archetypal symbolism) – Mythic patterns in literature – Classical and Christian symbolism – The “myth and symbol” school Rediscovery of Herman Melville at this time

4 Broad Trends, 1930s-1960s 1930s: Marxist and socially conscious criticism judged literature based on its realism and its representations of class struggle (Granville Hicks). Work was judged on its political content. 1940s-1960s: New Criticism (Cleanth Brooks, Wimsatt and Beardsley) was a type of formalism that focused on the unity of individual work of art without reference to external information. New Criticism saw political content as antithetical to art.

5 Broad Trends, 1970s-1990s Influential French theories: Deconstruction, Semiotics, Structuralism Reader-response theory Psychoanalytic theory Feminist theory—roles of women, women authors, and gender politics within work Class, race, and gender—reversed the trend away from ignoring the politics of a work; rediscovery of minority and women authors ignored by “classic” New Critics.

6 Broad Trends, 1990s Postcolonial theory: colonialism and imperialism and their legacies of oppression (Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak); voices silenced (the subalterns) by dominant forces. Cultural studies (Stuart Hall, Antonio Gramsci): study and critique of power relations within a given culture. Gender criticism

7 How does this relate to the three authors considered here? Nathaniel Hawthorne Frank Norris Edith Wharton

8 Hawthorne Nina Baym, The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career Hawthorne considered a great writer of “sketches” in his time. 1920s on: the “myth and symbol” aspect of his work appealed to New Critics. 1970s on: strong female characters appealed to feminist critics. 1990s on: interest in Hawthorne, representations of race in his fiction, etc.

9 Frank Norris’s Reputation Through the 1920s: praised for his bold, raw representation of America. Fell into a decline during modernism. Late 1950s and early 1960s: rediscovery of Norris’s symbols and structures—a Norris revival 1970s-1990s: Interest in Norris continues for his presentation of a literary West and his problematic conceptions of race.

10 Edith Wharton’s Reputation Considered a great novelist during her lifetime, although her critical reputation declined with the rise of modernism and her post-1920 books. 1930s: Attacked by Marxist critics for writing about the upper class. 1950s: Considered to be an imitator of Henry James, who (being male) was a greater writer; also, EW was attacked for being “cruel” to her characters (Lionel Trilling)

11 Edith Wharton’s Reputation 1975: First modern biography of EW and a subsequent rise in interest in her work. 1970s-1980s: Feminist critics start rereading Wharton for her critique of woman’s place in a restrictive culture. 1990s- on: Continuing interest from feminist critics but also postcolonial criticism, race criticism, etc.


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