Great American Novels

As far as “Great American Novels” go, this one should be considered too, despite its intermittent racism: Plutocracy.

Scholar looks at abiding interest in the ‘Great American Novel’

by Emily T. Simon: 

For Lawrence Buell, Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, this contradiction is an important theme in the tradition of American fiction writing. Buell is currently tracing the history of the “Great American Novel” concept from the mid-1800s to the present day, in the hopes of unveiling why the ideal continues to exert cultural influence and invite such heated public debate.

According to Buell, the idea of a Great American Novel was put into circulation immediately following the Civil War, as part of the reconciliation process.

“It was a follow-up, in the cultural sphere, to political reunification,” Buell says. “There was a sense among Americans that ‘at last we have a nation, and it’s time to articulate that.’”

The birth of the idea also reflected deep-rooted concerns about the nation’s cultural richness.

“In the 19th century, enthusiasm for the Great American Novel idea was fueled by anxiety about the supposed backwardness of the nation’s accomplishments in literature and the arts,” says Buell. “As American fiction matured, it became a means of marking and mapping certain kinds of supposedly galactic novelistic achievement.”

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