History of American Literature Finding your way Of course there is no such thing as the history of American literature. At best this course will be a history. Nothing can replace the experience of reading but most people, even in a life=me of reading, are unable to read all American literature and most of us ﬁnd it helpful to learn from the experience of others. Like all survey courses, this course will be par=al in both senses of the term: there will be gaps (leC for you to ﬁll) and it will probably reveal my own tastes. The course is designed to help you think about and situate in both =me and space the American authors you read. It is meant, in other words, to help you ﬁnd your way. Required Reading Students will be expected to read the passages posted each week. Student assessment: There will be a one-hour end-of-term examina=on in which students will be given a passage by an American author. You will be expected to discuss the passage, demonstra=ng your knowledge of 1) the way it can be seen as connected to the work of other American authors and 2) the ways in which it is original—diﬀerent from the work of other authors. You will be expected to do this in 200 to 400 words. What Do We Mean by “American literature”? The answer is not as obvious as it may seem. Is “American literature” literature wriRen on the American con=nent? In what is now the United States? In other words is it somehow connected with place? The ques=on is all the more complicated since the borders of that place, the United States, have been redeﬁned more than once since they ﬁrst came into existence: the United States as you know have not always been what they are today. Furthermore, “America” was a place in the imagina=on long before the United States were even thought of. In fact, even before America was discovered. And since literature has everything to do with the imagina=on, we will begin with William Bradford and try to think about the connec=on between place—the North American con=nent that is—and the imagina=on, the way a par=cular place, for all sorts of diﬀerent reasons, ﬁred the imagina=on and marked the literature of those who lived there. I will not be talking about the oral tradi=on that existed in North America before the arrival of Europeans, although it is an interes=ng subject in itself. The people that are now lumped together under the label “na=ve Americans” had a remarkable tradi=on of storytelling and performance—in which memory and modula=on of the voice played major roles. That tradi=on was recognized and admired by many of the early seRlers and travellers. In this course, I will concentrate on wriRen literature and on literature wriRen in English. In other words I will exclude literature wriRen in, say, French or Spanish, which also existed in what is now the United States. William Bradford 1. William Bradford's Of Plimouth Planta6on The Plymouth colony was not the ﬁrst European colony in North America and William Bradford's account was not the ﬁrst to be wriRen or published. But it holds a special place in the American canon (i.e., the accepted group of works that make up American literature, just as there is an authorita=ve list of books accepted as Holy Scripture) because of the nature of Bradford's experience, which has the aRributes of an heroic enterprise, but also because of the sweatness of Bradford's tone, his humility and his courage. William Bradford was born and bap=zed in Yorkshire, England in 1590. He was orphaned at an early age and, when he was twelve (in 1602), he began to aRend Puritan (or Separa=st) mee=ngs. Why were they called Puritans and Separa=sts and later Dissenters? Because they opposed the Church of England—the Anglican Church—and sought to purify it, to rid it of what they considered excesses of ceremonial worship that they saw as idolatry. They opposed the priesthood and insisted on personal interpreta=on of the Bible—or Scripture. They were constantly hounded by local magistrates and in 1608, many began to leave England and seRle in Holland where they were tolerated. They wanted to separate, in other words, from the Anglican Church. William Bradford was among the Separa=sts in Holland where he married in 1613. Seven years later, the whole congrega=on, or most of it, hired a ship, the Mayﬂower, and decided to go and seRle in America, styling themselves “pilgrims.” Bradford and his wife leC their four-year-old son behind and Bradfords wife,Dorothy May, died, just before their arrival, falling overboard—some say she commiRed suicide. The next year, in 1621, aCer the death of the ﬁrst governor of Plymouth, Bradford was elected governor, a posi=on to which he was re-elected every year (except ﬁve) for the rest of his life, un=l 1657, that is. Mourt's Rela2on, men=oned in the notes, based on wri=ngs by William Bradford among others, was published 1622 in London. But Bradford only began to write Of Plymouth Planta2on (from which today's passage is taken) only in 1630, that is, ten years aCer his arrival in the New World. Bradford worked on Of Plimouth Planta2on for twenty years. and it was published in England in 1650. You should remember that while William Bradford was aRening Puritan services from 1602 onwards, and later while he was travelling across the Atlan=c and seRling in the New World, Shakespeare's plays were being performed at the Globe Theatre in London. James I (who succeeded Elizabeth 1 in 1603 and who was himself both a writer and scholar) was King and the head of the Anglican Church. Remember too that this was the =me of John Donne (1572-1631), of Ben Jonson (1572-1632) and of John Milton (1608-1674) and of the King James transla=on (or Authorized Version) of the Bible (1604-1611), a major literary and scholarly undertaking carried out under the auspices of the King himself. All this to give you an idea of the literary context in which William Bradford lived even aCer he leC England. 2. God's Chosen People, Sent on a Divine Errand into the Wilderness William Bradford's account reveals his determina=on to make a record of the pilgrim project. This may seem self-evident but the story of the Puritans’ departure, voyage, arrival, seRlement, and the development of the planta=on, as well as their las=ng dedica=on to what they saw as God's purpose in history would deﬁne a shape for the wri=ng of America. Right from the very beginning, Bradford's account contained a ques=on: could language express the extraordinary experience of the pilgrims? America became a sort of tes=ng place for language. The Pilgrim's constant search for providen=al meanings and hidden revela=ons was part of the aRempt to discover and understand the meaning of the New World. Bradford wrote that he was determined to render his account “in plaine style with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things.” For him, the voyage to New England was an act of faith, derived from his reading of providen=al signs in everyday events. What he called ”the simple truth” was nothing less than the ac=ons of God's Chosen People, sent on a divine errand into the wilderness. History in the New Word could, according to this view, redeem or repair the sins of the Old World. His goal, the goal of the Pilgrims was the Chris=an millenium (the thousand years men=oned in the Bible (Revela2on 20) during which holiness is meant to prevail and Christ is to reign on earth). For the Puritans, all events, even seemingly unimportant events, were signs. Bradford's account did not appear out of nowhere. Behind it lay the powerful biblical story of the Promised Land. This is evident, for example, in Bradford’s allusion to Pisgah, which is the hill from which Moses contemplated Canaan, the promised land (e.g., Deuteronomy 3.23-25). For Bradford, the Pilgrims were new Israelites. They were repea=ng the Biblical story of the Exodus and arrival in the Promised Land. He places their adventure on the stage of world history. It is part of a drama that goes back to the beginning of =me. Their object was to embody the divine will by building villages and improving their own behaviour: they intended to be examples for all mankind. Bradford saw the arrival of the Pilgrims in the New World as part of an historical con=nuum that began with Crea=on and which would come to an end with the apocalypse. So beyond the facts related in Bradford's account there are clearly allegorical and transcendental meanings. He sees facts as nothing less than evidence of God's par=cipa=on in human history. Bradford's account takes the shape of what has been called a “jeremiad,” a primary type of Pur=an wri=ng. A “jeremiad,” (from the book of Jeremiah in the Bible) is not only a tale of sadness or woe, but an interpreta2ve account of hardships as well as a call for return to the purity of earlier =mes. All events, no maRer how ordinary, require scrupulous aRen=on because they are part of the allegoraical mystery. Bradford’s Of Plymouth Planta2on is a sort of millenarian epic—an epic without a known outcome. This uncertainty—uncertainty about how the story will end—explains Bradford's need for “plaine style.” “Plaine style,” the accurate representa=on of observed life, seemed to the Puritans to be a way to remain as close as possible to the essence of the facts to be interpreted. Bradford's account constantly tes=ﬁes to the shortcomings of the pilgrims. It repeatedly laments the gap between divine inten=ons and human fulﬁlment. Yet the pilgrims persisted in giving themselves a central role in the drama that God had designed for them on the American stage, which they thought of as the ﬁnal stage of human history. George Santayana, the American philosopher, said that the essen=al legacy of the Puritan imagina=on was precisely that conﬂict between the ideal and the real, the Utopian and the actual, the inten=onal and the accidental, the mythic and the everyday. The Puritans were aRemp=ng to found a new order of society based on a new covenant among men (a binding agreement, or compact) and a new rela=on of religion and law. CoRon Mather and the Intensity of Puritan Wri=ng 1. CoLon Mather (1663-1728) CoRon Mather‘s Magnalia Chris2 Americana (1702) marked the culmina=on of the process of typological interpreta=on (i.e., interpreta=on of symbols, especially in the Bible): the facts of American history became one long record of trials and proofs of God's providence (i.e., guidance or care). For the Puritans charged with God's errand in the wilderness, it seemed that the whole world watched as God and Satan struggled on the American shore. Their task was to displace the centre of history from Europe to this narraw strip of land. They saw themselves as a =ny band of spiritual pioneers who had accepted God's injunc=on to establish his Kingdom in the wilderness. CoRon Mather (no=ce his extraordinary name) was the third in line of the Mather dynasty (aCer Richard and Increase). He felt des=ned for leadership of both church and state. He was a man of great learning and owned a library of that showed the density of culture that had quickly developed in New England. Harvard College was founded in 1636. CoRon Mather spoke seven languages well. He had access to European science and thought, and in his life=me, he wrote over 450 books of essays, sermons, verses and theological trea=ses! His books look back at the story of the New England seRlement and celebrate its endurance. Like Bradford, Mather asserted God's presence in the American colonies. Eighty years aCer seRlement, the story he told was less jeremiad than epic and Mather drew on the ancient tales of the founding of Rome as well as the Bible. His aim was to emphasize the Puritan idea of history: a few transplanted Englishmen were at the centre of God’s plan for the redemp=on (or repair) of His crea=on. In 1692, the MassachuseRs Bay Colony (founded in 1630), executed fourteen women, ﬁve men, and two dogs for witchcraC. CoRon Mather jus=ﬁed these execu=ons as you will see in this excerpt from The Wonders of the Invisible World, published in 1693. 2. The Intensity of Puritan WriVng We have discussed William Bradford’s journal and CoRon Mather's chronicles as well as the Puritans’ aRachment to “plaine style,” to the simple unadorned language that they thought was the only way to express the truth. The Puritans were suspicious of any crea=ons that served merely for pleasure. But their records were not only of public but also of private, inward, events. The Puritans were concerned with domes=c experience as well as the life of the seRlements and congrega=ons. For the Puritans, history and autobiography—especially spiritual autobiography—merged. Self-scru=ny, and so autobiography, became an accepted Puritan form, des=ned for public circula=on. The Puritans published diaries as well as sermons. They also read and wrote poetry. Two Puritan poets stand out: Ann Bradstreet (c1612-1672) and Edward Taylor (1644-1729), whose work was not published an only discovered un=l in 1937. Ann Bradstreet was born in England and emigrated soon aCer Bradford in 1630. She wrote about public issues as well as about daily life. Her most famous lines concern marriage: If ever two were one, then surely we If ever man were loved by wife, then surely thee She inherited the vivacity, simplicity and a quality of felt experience from English poetry. But her piety, self-scru=ny, and her respect for her Maker are Puritan. Her acute awareness of nature make her American. The wit and texture of her poetry an=cipates another New England poet, Emily Dickinson. Edward Taylor emigrated later, in 1688. He was a minister ﬁrst and a poet second. He was brought up in England on a diet of metaphysical poets—Donne, Herbert, Vaughan—and his poems have both a Pu=tan intensity and a metaphysical complexity of imagery. His conceits, with their violent yoking of unlike things, remind us of the metaphysical poets and yet are en=rely compa=ble with the Puritan world view: Alas! my soul, product of breath divine For to illumine a lump of slime Sad providence! Must thou below thus tent In such a cote as strangles with ill scent? The source of Taylor's poems is his passionate faith and his belief in the Fall and man's exile and search for a New Jerusalem or Heavenly City. His poems are medita=ons about the individual soul seeking regenera=on. In spite of their spareness, which also announces Emily Dickinson, they display the drama of feeling of a troubled conscience. Like Bradstreet, Taylor explores even the most ordinary human ac=vity and perhaps his most famous poem is called “Husewifery.” The intensity of Puritan poetry as well as Puritan chronicles and journals would characterize much of later American wri=ng from Emerson to Henry James. Mary Rowlandson's CapVvity NarraVve In seventeenth century America, there was no imagina=ve prose ﬁc=on to compare with these voices. One form of prose story, which found its source in the Puritan's trials in the wilderness, did exist and became extremely popular— the Indian cap=vity narra=ve. Indian cap=vity narra=ves told the story of the Puritan's encounter with the American landscape, the American climate, and most of all the American Indians. As the Puritans saw it, cap=vity was part of God's plan: a confronta=on with Satan in “the howling wilderness.” Cap=vity narra=ves were the record of this story and they became the ﬁrst form of popular American wri=ng. Mary Rowlandson's account became a bestseller, as we say now, and a prototype of popular American wri=ng. Cap=vity narra=ves record terrible events and terrible casual=es, all of which ﬁt into the larger story of a chosen people who crossed the sea, seRled in a wilderness peopled with unknown numbers of devils. a story of terrible hardship and cruelty, and then of rescue or escape—the necessary condi=on of a wriRen account. Rowlandson constantly connects her cap=vity with Biblical tales of cap=vity. She seeks providen=al meaning in all she underwent and her narra=ve was seen as an allegory of salva=on. In fact, cap=vity narra=ves mimicked the hazardous human journey through life and rescue was a sign of God's mercy. They gave a structure and purpose to individual human lives, not unlike John Bunyan's The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) published in England about the same =me. Cap=vity narra=ves were a form of storytelling among a people who were, once again, devoted to truth and who saw ﬁc=on as another form of lying. Mary Rowlandson (c1635-1678 but perhaps later than this) was made a cap=ve during King Philip's War (1675-1676) when the NarrraganseR Indians aRacked her village, Lancaster in February 1676. She was abducted by the Indians who held her for 11 weeks and ﬁve days, un=l she was ransomed. it shows the dangers among which the seRlers lived, their contempt for the Indians, their dependence on the Bible for support and their treatment during enforced cap=vity. So cap=vity narra=ves were moral tales, lessons, and sermons as well as history. But they were also sensa=onal adventure stories and, as such, immensely popular. The announce the gothic tale of the end of the following century. Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) “Concerning the Savages of North America” (1782-83) Anyone who reads Benjamin Franklin's essay “Concerning the Savages of North America” immediately aCer Mary Rowlandson's cap=vity narra=ve, or CoRon Mather's discussion of witchcraC in New England, can only be struck by the sea-change that clearly occurred in the hundred years following the wri=ng of Rowlandson's and Mather's works. Franklin's essay was wriRen in 1782-83, that is almost exactly a hundred years aCer Rowlandson's narra=ve. Remember the Puritans’ "howling wilderness” a place they would redeem and repair all mankind! S=ll, as you also know, the Puritans were not the only people to seRle in America. They were not even the only English-speaking people to seRle in America. There were the Anglican English who seRled in Virginia, and the Dutch, who set up trading posts at the mouth of the Hudson River. There were English catholics. There were also the Quakers who seRled in Philadelphia. Many of these seRlers, saw America as a source of wealth as well as of social opportunity. What is striking in Benjamin Franklin's essay is a a completely new astude. While Mary Rowlandson describes the Indians as devils who are part of God's poviden=al plan designed to try the Puritans and to punish them for their sins, Franklin describes them with what he calls “impar=ality” and ﬁnds them superior to Europeans. How did this change take place? Benjamin Frankilin was born in Boston. He was the son of a chandler (a man who makes candles) and went to school for a few years before he began to work. At twelve he was appren=ced to one of his brothers who ran a magazine. Franklin was a big reader. He taught himself several languages. At seventeen, he he began to work in a print shop. At 24 he owned his own print shop. Towards the end of his life, Franklin wrote his most famous work, his Autobiography, in which he describes his method of self-improvement. This is perhaps the major aRribute of the new spirit of the eighteenth century. Franklin aRempted to improve himself (which the Puritans had also done) but also to improve the world around him: he aRempted to do beRer business, of course, but he also ini=ated projects for establishing city police, for paving, cleaning and ligh=ng the streets, and for the ﬁrst circula=ng library. He was interested in every sort of natural phenomenon and he made many scien=ﬁc experiments, including the famous one with a kite, to show the iden=ty of electricity. He also invented a stove. He was prac=cal. He took aﬀairs into his own hands and was extraordinarily successful in everything he did. Franklin's was interested in the useful. His concerns were secular and social. And, as everyone knows, he was a Founding Father, that is he contributed to the Declara=on of Independence. So Franklin was not primarily concerned with spiritual salva=on. He was preoccupied instead with the world of things. He was a man of the enlightenment, a man of the eighteenth century. He believed in progress. But the Calvinism of the Puritans— remember the self-scru=ny, the journal-keeping of the Puritans—seems to have leC its mark. We see evidence of this in the Autobiography, in the mere fact that Franklin undertook this self-examina=on. There is surely also some connec=on between Puritan unadorned “plaine style” and Benjamin Franklin's u=litarian prose. Yet Franklin is a typical example of eighteenth century enlightenment: he was a yankee Puritan who had read and agreed with Rousseau and Voltaire and he could use the language of Daniel Defoe and Joseph Addison with a na=ve American twang. (I hope you remember them from the ﬁrst semester: Defoe was a pioneer of the realist novel and Addison, who wrote essays for the Spectator dealing with manners, daily life, and the progress of civilisa=on.) Franklin's style is precise, lucid, and perfectly adapted to the ends to which he devoted it. His mind was pragma=c and although he reserved his enthusiasm for science, he was tolerant of all types of thought. This tolerance, is clearly visible in his essay “Concerning the Savages of North America.” Hector St. John de Crèvecœur (1735-1813) Last week we read Benjamin Franklin's essay “Concerning the Savages of North America” and we noted Franklin's irony and and his aRempt to examine another culture “impar=ally.” His aRempt in other words, to look at his own society and culture without prejudice. We also noted that he was bent on improving the world around him, improving it prac=cally rather than spiritually. There was a sort of op=mism in Franklin's astude to the world, which is typical of the enlightenment. Franklin was the supreme example of the self-created American type. We noted too, and more generally, that the eighteenth century was a period of major change in American ideas and ideals, a change which did not so much displace the millenarian impulses of the Puritans, as refashion them in response to the intellectual and scien=ﬁc ques=ons of the Age of Reason. The Puritan inheritance was being moderated and changed by the new thought and the new social order. The great religious awakenings of the new century were not simply aRempts to revive the Puritan inheritance. They were also eﬀorts to give new meaning to rapidly changing =mes. Today we are going to look at a passage from Hector St. John de Crèvecœur's LeHers from an American Farmer. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur was a French aristocrat who emigrated to North America in 1755, at the age of 20. First he fought with Montcalm in Canada and later he was naturalized as a Bri=sh colonial subject in New York where he spent a few idyllic years in Orange County. But, as a loyalist, he was forced to ﬂee during the American Revolu=on, ﬁrst to New York City and then to France in 1780. When he returned to America in 1783 he found that his wife was dead, his home burnt, and his children dispersed, as a result of an Indian raid. Eventually he found his children and seRled in New York. Crèvecœur has oCen been considered merely a sen=mental Rousseauis=c romancer, but he is also a vigorous recorder of early American rural life. American nature was hard material for the mind to manage. American physical space was vast, its climate varied and oCen dangerous. Its problems of seRlement and organiza=on were great. American physical space was neither tamed nor enclosed, neither a garden to work on nor distantly sublime and enlarging to the imagina=on. Some, in Europe, like Buﬀon in France, saw the American climate as perverse and American fauna as degenerate. Others sought to embrace the special wonders of American nature. At the end of the eighteenth century the idea of America as a promising new pastoral was perhaps best expressed by Hector St. John de Crèvecœur. His LeHers from an American Farmer are a powerful demonstra=on of how a new nature and a new social order might generate a new kind of man and so make American soil the terrain on which the ﬁnal stage of civiliza=on would be played out. For Crèvecœur, America was an extraordinary openfron=ered landscape, there to be administered, according to the highest eighteenthcentury ideals. His LeHers read like a heroic pastoral of the New World. Although his LeHers from an American Farmer were not published un=l 1782, they were wriRen over the seven years leading up to the American Revolu=onary War and demonstrate Crèvecœur’s early op=mism. We are reading one of his early and most laudatory leRers in which he describes all the virtues of the American character and promises its ﬂourishing. The leRers are all wriRen from the perspec=ve of “James” (an avatar for Crèvecœur himself), and addressed to a “Mr. F.B.,” an English gentleman.