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The cover of the first edition of The Great Gatsby (1925), a great American novel of the 1920s.

The "Great American Novel" is the concept of a novel that most perfectly represents the spirit of life in the United States at the time of its writing. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen. It is often considered as the American response to the tradition of the national epic.

Contents

History

Literature was first written in America during the 1500s, but only until the concept of an American person developed during 1600s could American literature truly be said to exist. America's identity as a nation was reflected alongside the development of its literature. The quest for the Greatest novel written by an American has been a race since its conception.

The phrase derives from the title of an essay by American Civil War novelist John William DeForest, published in The Nation on January 9, 1868. More broadly, however, it has its origins in American nationalism and the call for American counterparts to great British authors. It is an ideological call for American cultural distinctness, and identity.

In modern usage, the term is often figurative and represents a Holy Grail of writing, an ideal to strive towards, and is a source of inspiration. Aspiring writers of all ages, but especially students, are often said to be driven to write "the Great American Novel." It is, presumably, the greatest American book ever written, or which could ever be written. Thus, "Great American Novel" is a metaphor for identity, a Platonic ideal that is not achieved in any specific texts, but whose aim writers strive to mirror in their work.

An alternate usage is in reference to actual novels. Although the title is not a formal award, it is considered to be a prestigious title for a novel, and is thus seen as a worthwhile goal for writers to attempt to achieve.

Though the term is singular, many novels have been given this title over time. In fact, few will claim there is one single Great American Novel.

List of possible Great American Novels

The following works have been discussed, at one time or another, as contenders for Great American Novel status:

19th century
20th century
21st century

References

Further reading

  • Brown, Herbert R. "The Great American Novel." American Literature 7.1 (1935): 1-14.
  • Knox, George. "The Great American Novel: Final Chapter." American Quarterly 21.4 (1969): 667-682.

External links

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File:Huckleberry Finn
The cover of the first edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

The "Great American Novel" is the concept of a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representative of the zeitgeist in the United States at the time of its writing. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen. In historical terms, it is sometimes equated as being the American response to the national epic.

Contents

History

While there was fiction being written in colonial America as early as the 16th century, it wasn't until the concept of an actual 'American' identity developed during the 18th century that what is understood to be 'American literature' began. America's identity as a nation was reflected alongside the development of its literature.

The term 'Great American Novel' derives from the title of an essay[1] by American Civil War novelist John William DeForest. More broadly, however, the concept originated in American nationalism and the call for American counterparts to great British authors.

In modern usage, the term is often figurative and represents a canonical writing, a literary benchmark emblematic of what is American literature in a given era. Aspiring writers of all ages, but especially students, are often said to be driven to write 'the Great American Novel.' As a theoretical, it is, presumably, the greatest American book ever written, or which could ever be written. Thus, 'Great American Novel' is a metaphor for identity, a Platonic ideal that is not achieved in any specific texts, but whose aim writers strive to mirror in their work.

In literary parlance, the term 'Great American Novel' is in reference to actual works. Although the acknowledgment is not a formal award (in contrast to a Pulitzer or the National Book Award), it is considered a mark of prestige, and is thus seen as a worthwhile goal for writers to attempt.

Though the term is singular, many novels have been referred to as 'The Great American Novel'.

List of possible Great American Novels

At one time or another, the following works have been considered to be The Great American Novel:

19th century
20th century
21st century

See also

National epic

References

  1. ^ DeForest, John (9 January 1868), "The Great American Novel", The Nation (New York), http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/articles/n2ar39at.html, retrieved 11 October 2010 
  2. ^ http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=87805369
  3. ^ http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americannovel/timeline/thegreatgatsby.html
  4. ^ http://www.studio360.org/americanicons/episodes/2006/08/18
  5. ^ Brown, Robert B. (June/July 1984). "On Hundred Years of Huck Finn". American Heritage Publishing. http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1984/4/1984_4_81.shtml. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  It was called the “great American novel” as early as 1891 by the English writer Andrew Lang, and nine years after that a Harvard professor wrote that it was the “most admirable work of literary art as yet produced on this continent. ”
  6. ^ Lavender, Catherine (June 14, 2001). "F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)". College of Staten Island. http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/gatsby.html. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  Professor Lavender teaches history at the College of Staten Island in New York. Her handout for the unit on The Great Gatsby begins with this paragraph: "Written in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is often referred to as "The Great American Novel," and as the quintessential work which captures the mood of the "Jazz Age."
  7. ^ Hirsch, Arthur (1997-11-16). "The real great American Novel: 'Absalom, Absalom!' Faulkner: His ninth novel, for its span, its revelation, its American essence, stands above all others in reaching for this literary absolute." (in English). The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD). http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1997-11-16/news/1997320006_1_absalom-great-american-novel-faulkner. Retrieved 2010-09-21. 
  8. ^ Hammond, Margo (February 6, 2004). "Norman Mailer on the Media and the Message". Book Babes. The Poynter Institute. http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=57&aid=60488. Retrieved 2010-09-21.  Norman Mailer is a Pulitzer Prize winning literary critic, and it is his opinion that: "The Great American Novel is no longer writable. We can't do what John Dos Passos did. His trilogy on America came as close to the Great American Novel as anyone. You can't cover all of America now. It's too detailed."
  9. ^ Dana, Gioia. "The Grapes of Wrath Radio Show - Transcript". The Big Read. The National Endowment for the Arts. http://www.neabigread.org/books/grapesofwrath/audiotranscript.php. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  Richard Rodriguez is a famous American writer. In this interview he referred to the Grapes of Wrath as The Great American Novel: "There hasn't been anything like this novel since it was written. And this is the great American novel that everyone keeps waiting for but it has been written now."
  10. ^ Nixon, Rob. "The Grapes of Wrath". This Month Spotlight. Turner Classic Movies. http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article.jsp?cid=182376&mainArticleId=252903. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  Nixon quotes John Springer, author of The Fondas (Citadel, 1973), a book about Henry Fonda and his role in film version of The Grapes of Wrath: "The Great American Novel made one of the few enduring Great American Motion Pictures."
  11. ^ Wolverton, II, Joe (January 29, 2010). "J.D. Salinger, Dead at 91". The New American Magazine. http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php/culture/biography/2854-jd-salinger-dead-at-91. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  "While a student at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Salinger amused and annoyed his fellow students by traipsing about campus proclaiming that he would be the author of the next Great American Novel. That his Catcher in the Rye was such a book is indisputable.
  12. ^ Amis, Martin, Review, The Atlantic Monthly (quoted by Powell's Books), http://www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=9780140281606  Martin Amis is a well-known British novelist and professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. It is his opinion that "The Adventures of Augie March is the Great American Novel. Search no further. All the trails went cold 42 years ago. The quest did what quests very rarely do; it ended."
  13. ^ Williams, Mary Elizabeth. "Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov". Personal Best. Salon. http://www.salon.com/weekly/nabokov960930.html. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  Mary Elizabeth Williams is Salon's Table Talk host. She opens her review with these lines: "Some say the Great American Novel is Huckleberry Finn, some say it's The Jungle, some say it's The Great Gatsby. But my vote goes to the tale with the maximum lust, hypocrisy and obsession -- the view of America that could only have come from an outsider -- Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita".
  14. ^ Jameson, Frederick (1996). The Seeds of Time. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. pp. 214 pages. http://books.google.com/books?id=hXsWr85Hg9QC&lpg=PA147&ots=5-pCO4v0Sq&dq=%E2%80%9Cwhich%20thereby%20at%20once%20became%20The%20Great%20American%20Novel%E2%80%9D&pg=PA147#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9Cwhich%20thereby%20at%20once%20became%20The%20Great%20American%20Novel%E2%80%9D&f=false.  "These are familiar features of daily life in the super state from which, it should be noted, high modernism in the United States - in theory and in practice alike, fifties aestheticism organized around Pound and Henry James and Wallace Stevens and the New Criticism - was in desperate flight; of our great modern writers, only Nabokov handled this kind of material, in Lolita, which thereby at once became The Great American Novel,- but of course he was a foreigner to begin with." (Page 146-147).
  15. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". http://www.mahalo.com/to-kill-a-mockingbird. 
  16. ^ Puente, Maria (2010-07-08). "'To Kill a Mockingbird': Endearing, enduring at 50 years". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2010-07-08-mockingbird08_CV_N.htm. 
  17. ^ Ruch, Alan (April 1, 1997). "Introduction to GR". The Modern World. http://www.themodernword.com/pynchon/pynchon_grintro.html. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  "It is the Great American Novel come at last, a postmodern masterpiece."
  18. ^ Weisenburger, Steven (2006). A Gravity's Rainbow Companion. University of Georgia Press. pp. 412. http://books.google.com/books?id=fK73JkjMDmQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=gravity%27s+rainbow+great+american+novel&source=bl&ots=lGsSuY4Kfo&sig=OI4lh5oZ7b38XT5smleVlwHN7YQ&hl=en&ei=Lk_XS7j7M42C9ATHlZGPBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CCEQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=great%20american%20novel&f=false.  "Thomas Pynchon's big book quickly confirmed him as one of the few novelists of unprecedented genius to emerge in the postwar era. Here was the Great American Novel at last. The reviewers' favorite comparisons were to Moby Dick and Ulysses."
  19. ^ Benjamin Alsup (2009-03-05). "The Next Four Candidates for the Great American Novel". Esquire Magazine. http://www.esquire.com/fiction/book-review/great-american-novel-0309. Retrieved 2010-03-09.  Benjamin Alsup is a book critic for Esquire. He states quite simply: "The last great American novel was The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen."

Further reading

  • Brown, Herbert R. "The Great American Novel." American Literature 7.1 (1935): 1–14.
  • Knox, George. "The Great American Novel: Final Chapter." American Quarterly 21.4 (1969): 667–682.

External links


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