Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 5

American literature - Overview, Colonial literature, Early U.S. literature, Unique American style, American lyric

novel slavery african tales

The first literary works of the English-speaking peoples of North America were sermons, journals, and histories - concerns reflected in the work of the early poets Ann Bradstreet and Edward Taylor. In the Revolutionary period the most important work was practical or political, eg Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac (1732–58). Franklin's Autobiography (1781) is a memorable testament to a Puritan sensibility. The African-born poet, Phillis Wheatley, a Boston servant before her release from slavery, was the first black African to receive considerable critical acclaim with her collection Poems on Various Subjects: Religious and Moral (1773, London). After the international impact of Washington Irving's The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (1819–20), Fenimore Cooper likewise became a celebrity in the USA and Europe with his Leatherstocking Tales (1823–41), which introduced the theme of the problematic relationship between the wilderness and encroaching American civilization. The novelist and playwright William Wells Brown, who escaped from slavery in 1834, wrote the first novel by a black American, Clotel; or, The President's Daughter (1853, London). Transcendentalism was enunciated by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Nature (1836) and by H D Thoreau in Walden (1855). Walt Whitman's free-form Leaves of Grass (appearing 1855–92) is the most sustained and successful response to Emerson's call for a literature free from European influence. By contrast, the poetry of Emily Dickinson offers unique concentration and intensity. Another group that spoke for the darker side of existence in the USA included Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. Poe's sinister Tales (1840, 1845) continue to fascinate; while Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850), and Melville's epic Moby-Dick (1852), are central works of the American imagination. But Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was the best-selling novel of the 20th-c.

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or