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NEOCLASSISM: EPIC, MOCK EPIC, AND SATIRE

NEOCLASSISM: EPIC, MOCK EPIC, AND SATIRE - Лекция, раздел Лингвистика, Курс лекций по предмету романо-германская филология UNfortunately, "literary" Writing Was Not As S...

Unfortunately, "literary" writing was not as simple and direct as political writing. When trying to write poetry, most educated authors stumbled into the pitfall of elegant neoclassicism. The epic, in particular, exercised a fatal attraction. American literary patriots felt sure that the great American Revolution naturally would find expression in the epic -- a long, dramatic narrative poem in elevated language, celebrating the feats of a legendary hero.

Many writers tried but none succeeded. Timothy Dwight (1752- 1817), one of the group of writers known as the Hartford Wits, is an example. Dwight, who eventually became the president of Yale University, based his epic, The Conquest of Canaan (1785), on the Biblical story of Joshua's struggle to enter the Promised Land. Dwight cast General Washington, commander of the American army and later the first president of the United States, as Joshua in his allegory and borrowed the couplet form that Alexander Pope used to translate Homer. Dwight's epic was as boring as it was ambitious. English critics demolished it; even Dwight's friends, such as John Trumbull (1750-1831), remained unenthusiastic. So much thunder and lightning raged in the melodramatic battle scenes that Trumbull proposed that the epic be provided with lightning rods.

Not surprisingly, satirical poetry fared much better than serious verse. The mock epic genre encouraged American poets to use their natural voices and did not lure them into a bog of pretentious and predictable patriotic sentiments and faceless conventional poetic epithets out of the Greek poet Homer and the Roman poet Virgil by way of the English poets.

In mock epics like John Trumbull's good-humored M'Fingal (1776-82), stylized emotions and conventional turns of phrase are ammunition for good satire, and the bombastic oratory of the revolution is itself ridiculed. Modeled on the British poet Samuel Butler's Hudibras, the mock epic derides a Tory, M'Fingal. It is often pithy, as when noting of condemned criminals facing hanging:

No man e'er felt the halter draw
With good opinion of the law.

M'Fingal went into over 30 editions, was reprinted for a half- century, and was appreciated in England as well as America. Satire appealed to Revolutionary audiences partly because it contained social comment and criticism, and political topics and social problems were the main subjects of the day. The first American comedy to be performed, The Contrast (produced 1787) by Royall Tyler (1757-1826), humorously contrasts Colonel Manly, an American officer, with Dimple, who imitates English fashions. Naturally, Dimple is made to look ridiculous. The play introduces the first Yankee character, Jonathan.

Another satirical work, the novel Modern Chivalry, published by Hugh Henry Brackenridge in installments from 1792 to 1815, memorably lampoons the excesses of the age. Brackenridge (1748- 1816), a Scottish immigrant raised on the American frontier, based his huge, picaresque novel on Don Quixote; it describes the misadventures of Captain Farrago and his stupid, brutal, yet appealingly human, servant Teague O'Regan.

POET OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: Philip Freneau (1752-1832)

One poet, Philip Freneau, incorporated the new stirrings of European Romanticism and escaped the imitativeness and vague universality of the Hartford Wits. The key to both his success and his failure was his passionately democratic spirit combined with an inflexible temper.

The Hartford Wits, all of them undoubted patriots, reflected the general cultural conservatism of the educated classes. Freneau set himself against this holdover of old Tory attitudes, complaining of "the writings of an aristocratic, speculating faction at Hartford, in favor of monarchy and titular distinctions." Although Freneau received a fine education and was as well acquainted with the classics as any Hartford Wit, he embraced liberal and democratic causes.

From a Huguenot (radical French Protestant) background, Freneau fought as a militiaman during the Revolutionary War. In 1780, he was captured and imprisoned in two British ships, where he almost died before his family managed to get him released. His poem "The British Prison Ship" is a bitter condemnation of the cruelties of the British, who wished "to stain the world with gore." This piece and other revolutionary works, including "Eutaw Springs," "American Liberty," "A Political Litany," "A Midnight Consultation," and "George the Third's Soliloquy," brought him fame as the "Poet of the American Revolution."

Freneau edited a number of journals during his life, always mindful of the great cause of democracy. When Thomas Jefferson helped him establish the militant, anti-Federalist National Gazette in 1791, Freneau became the first powerful, crusading newspaper editor in America, and the literary predecessor of William Cullen Bryant, William Lloyd Garrison, and H.L. Mencken.

As a poet and editor, Freneau adhered to his democratic ideals. His popular poems, published in newspapers for the average reader, regularly celebrated American subjects. "The Virtue of Tobacco" concerns the indigenous plant, a mainstay of the southern economy, while "The Jug of Rum" celebrates the alcoholic drink of the West Indies, a crucial commodity of early American trade and a major New World export. Common American characters lived in "The Pilot of Hatteras," as well as in poems about quack doctors and bombastic evangelists.

Freneau commanded a natural and colloquial style appropriate to a genuine democracy, but he could also rise to refined neoclassic lyricism in often-anthologized works such as "The Wild Honeysuckle" (1786), which evokes a sweet-smelling native shrub. Not until the "American Renaissance" that began in the 1820s would American poetry surpass the heights that Freneau had scaled 40 years earlier.

Additional groundwork for later literary achievement was laid during the early years. Nationalism inspired publications in many fields, leading to a new appreciation of things American. Noah Webster (1758-1843) devised an American Dictionary, as well as an important reader and speller for the schools. His Spelling Book sold more than 100 million copies over the years. Updated Webster's dictionaries are still standard today. The American Geography, by Jedidiah Morse, another landmark reference work, promoted knowledge of the vast and expanding American land itself. Some of the most interesting if nonliterary writings of the period are the journals of frontiersmen and explorers such as Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), who wrote accounts of expeditions across the Louisiana Territory, the vast portion of the North American continent that Thomas Jefferson purchased from Napoleon in 1803.

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Early American and Colonial Period to 1776
  American literature begins with the orally transmitted myths, legends, tales, and lyrics (always songs) of Indian cultures. There was no written literature amon

THE LITERATURE OF EXPLORATION
Had history taken a different turn, the United States easily could have been a part of the great Spanish or French overseas empires. Its present inhabitants might speak Spanish

THE COLONIAL PERIOD IN NEW ENGLAND
It is likely that no other colonists in the history of the world were as intellectual as the Puritans. Between 1630 and 1690, there were as many university graduates in the nor

LITERATURE IN THE SOUTHERN AND MIDDLE COLONIES
Pre-revolutionary southern literature was aristocratic and secular, reflecting the dominant social and economic systems of the southern plantations. Early English immigrants were drawn to th

Democratic Origins and Revolutionary Writers, 1776-1820
  The hard-fought American Revolution against Britain (1775-1783) was the first modern war of liberation against a colonial power. The triumph of American indepen

THE AMERICAN ENLIGHTENMENT
The 18th-century American Enlightenment was a movement marked by an emphasis on rationality rather than tradition, scientific inquiry instead of unquestioning religious dogma,

WRITERS OF FICTION
The first important fiction writers widely recognized today, Charles Brockden Brown, Washington Irving, and James Fenimore Cooper, used American subjects, historical perspectiv

WOMEN AND MINORITIES
Although the colonial period produced several women writers of note, the revolutionary era did not further the work of women and minorities, despite the many schools, magazines

Other Women Writers
A number of accomplished revolutionary-era women writers have been rediscovered by feminist scholars. Susanna Rowson (c. 1762- 1824) was one of America's first professional novelists. Her seven nov

The Romantic Period, 1820-1860: Essayists and Poets
  The Romantic movement, which originated in Germany but quickly spread to England, France, and beyond, reached America around the year 1820, some 20 years after

TRANSCENDENTALISM
The Transcendentalist movement was a reaction against 18th century rationalism and a manifestation of the general humanitarian trend of 19th century thought. The movement was b

THE BRAHMIN POETS
In their time, the Boston Brahmins (as the patrician, Harvard-educated class came to be called) supplied the most respected and genuinely cultivated literary arbiters of the Un

TWO REFORMERS
New England sparkled with intellectual energy in the years before the Civil War. Some of the stars that shine more brightly today than the famous constellation of Brahmins were

The Romantic Period, 1820-1860: Fiction
  W alt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and the Transcendentalists represent the first great literary generation

THE ROMANCE
T he Romance form is dark and forbidding, indicating how difficult it is to create an identity without a stable society. Most of the Romantic heroes die in the end: All the sai

WOMEN WRITERS AND REFORMERS
American women endured many inequalities in the 19th century: They were denied the vote, barred from professional schools and most higher education, forbidden to speak in publi

The Rise of Realism: 1860-1914
  T he U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) between the industrial North and the agricultural, slave-owning South was a watershed in American history. The innocent optimism

FRONTIER HUMOR AND REALISM
T wo major literary currents in 19th-century America merged in Mark Twain: popular frontier humor and local color, or "regionalism." These related literary approaches

LOCAL COLORISTS
L ike frontier humor, local color writing has old roots but produced its best works long after the Civil War. Obviously, many pre-war writers, from Henry David Thoreau and Nath

MIDWESTERN REALISM
F or many years, the editor of the important Atlantic Monthly magazine, William Dean Howells (1837-1920), published realistic local color writing by Bret Harte, Mark Twa

COSMOPOLITAN NOVELISTS
Henry James (1843-1916) Henry James once wrote that art, especially literary art, "makes life, makes interest, makes importance." James's fiction and criticism i

NATURALISM AND MUCKRAKING
W harton's and James's dissections of hidden sexual and financial motivations at work in society link them with writers who seem superficially quite different: Stephen Crane, J

THE "CHICAGO SCHOOL" OF POETRY
T hree Midwestern poets who grew up in Illinois and shared the midwestern concern with ordinary people are Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Edgar Lee Masters. Their poetry of

TWO WOMEN REGIONAL NOVELISTS
N ovelists Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) and Willa Cather (1873-1947) explored women's lives, placed in brilliantly evoked regional settings. Neit

THE RISE OF BLACK AMERICAN LITERATURE
T he literary achievement of African-Americans was one of the most striking literary developments of the post-Civil War era. In the writings of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du

Modernism and Experimentation: 1914-1945
  M any historians have characterized the period between t

MODERNISM
T he large cultural wave of Modernism, which gradually emerged in Europe and the United States in the early years of the 20th century, expressed a sense of modern life through

POETRY 1914-1945: EXPERIMENTS IN FORM
Ezra Pound (1885-1972) Ezra Pound was one of the most influential American poets of this century. From 1908 to 1920, he resided in London, where he associated with many wr

BETWEEN THE WARS
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) Numerous American poets of stature and genuine vision arose in the years between the world wars, among them poets from the West Coast, women, and

PROSE WRITING, 1914-1945: AMERICAN REALISM
A lthough American prose between the wars experimented with viewpoint and form, Americans wrote more realistically, on the whole, than did Europeans. Novelist Ernest Hemingway

NOVELS OF SOCIAL AWARENESS
S ince the 1890s, an undercurrent of social protest had coursed through American literature, welling up in the naturalism of Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser and in the clear

THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE
D uring the exuberant 1920s, Harlem, the black community situated uptown in New York City, sparkled with passion and creativity. The sounds of its black American jazz swept the

LITERARY CURRENTS: THE FUGITIVES AND NEW CRITICISM
F rom the Civil War into the 20th century, the southern United States had remained a political and economic backwater ridden with racism and superstition, but, at the same time

TH-CENTURY AMERICAN DRAMA
A merican drama imitated English and European theater until well into the 20th century. Often, plays from England or translated from European languages dominated theater season

American Poetry Since 1945: The Anti-Tradition
  A shift away from an assumption that traditional forms, ideas, and history can provide meaning and continuity to human life has occurred in the contemporary lit

TRADITIONALISM
T raditional writers include acknowledged masters of traditional forms and diction who write with a readily recognizable craft, often using rhyme or a set metrical pattern. Oft

IDIOSYNCRATIC POETS
P oets who have developed unique styles drawing on tradition but extending it into new realms with a distinctively contemporary flavor, in addition to Plath and Sexton, include

EXPERIMENTAL POETRY
T he force behind Lowell's mature achievement and much of contemporary poetry lies in the experimentation begun in the 1950s by a number of poets. They may be divided into five

The Black Mountain School
The Black Mountain School centered around Black Mountain College an experimental liberal arts college in Asheville, North Carolina, where poets Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley taug

The San Francisco School
The work of the San Francisco School -- which includes most West Coast poetry in general -- owes much to Eastern philosophy and religion, as well as to Japanese and Chinese poetry. This is not surp

Beat Poets
The San Franciso School blends into the next grouping -- the "Beat" poets, who emerged in the 1950s. Most of the important Beats (beatniks) migrated to San Francisco from the East Coast,

The New York School
Unlike the Beat and San Franciso poets, the poets of the New York School are not interested in overtly moral questions, and, in general, they steer clear of political issues. They have the best for

Surrealism and Existentialism
In his anthology defining the new schools, Donald Allen includes a fifth group he cannot define because it has no clear geographical underpinning. This vague group includes recent movements and exp

WOMEN AND MULTIETHNIC POETS
W omen's literature, like minority literature and surrealism, first became aware of itself as a driving force in American life during the late 1960s. It flourished in the femin

Chicano/Hispanic/Latino Poetry
Spanish-influenced poetry encompasses works by many diverse groups. Among these are Mexican-Americans, known since the 1950s as Chicanos, who have lived for many generations in the southwestern U.S

Native American Poetry
Native Americans have written fine poetry, most likely because a tradition of shamanistic song plays a vital role in their cultural heritage. Their work excels in vivid, living evocations of the na

African-American Poetry
Contemporary black Americans have produced many poems of great beauty and considerable range of themes and tones. It is the most developed ethnic writing in America and is extremely diverse. Amiri

NEW DIRECTIONS
R ecent directions in American poetry include the "language poets" loosely associated with Temblor magazine. Among them are Bruce Andrews, Lyn Hejinian, Dougla

American Prose Since 1945: Realism and Experimentation
  N arrative since World War II resists generalization: It is extremely various and multifaceted. It has been vitalized by international currents such as European

THE REALIST LEGACY AND THE LATE 1940s
A s in the first half of the 20th century, fiction in the second half reflects the character of each decade. The late 1940s saw the aftermath of World War II and the beginning

THE AFFLUENT BUT ALIENATED 1950s
T he 1950s saw the delayed impact of modernization and technology in everyday life, left over from the 1920s -- before the Great Depression. World War II brought the United Sta

THE TURBULENT BUT CREATIVE 1960s
T he alienation and stress underlying the 1950s found outward expression in the 1960s in the United States in the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, antiwar protests, minority ac

THE 1970s AND 1980s: NEW DIRECTIONS
B y the mid-1970s, an era of consolidation began. The Vietnam conflict was over, followed soon afterward by U.S. recognition of the People's Republic of China and America's Bic

THE NEW REGIONALISM
T here is nothing new about a regional tradition in American literature. It is as old as the Native American legends, as evocative as the works of James Fenimore Cooper and Bre

List of Books on American Literature
1. W. Irving. Rip van Winkle 2. E.A. Poe.The Fall of the House of Usher 3. M. Twain.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Exam questions on American literature
1. Early American and colonial period. 2. Revolutionary literature. The American Enlightenment. 3. The creative work of W. Irving. 4. The creative work of J. F. Cooper.

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