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American Literature

American Literature

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American Literature

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  1. American Literature Lecture Two 030533/4/5, 19th Sep. 2006

  2. Part ONE. Early American and Colonial Period to 1765

  3. 1. Introduction • Instead of beginning with folk tales and songs the American literature began with abstractions and proceeded from philosophy to fiction because there were no written literature among the more than 500 different Indian languages and tribal cultures that existed in North America before the first Europeans arrived there and set up the first colony Jamestown in about 1607. • American writing began with the work of English adventurers and colonists in the New World chiefly for the benefit of readers in the mother country. Some of these early works reached the level of literature, as in the robust and perhaps truthful account of his adventures by Captain John Smith and the sober, tendentious journalistic histories of John Winthrop and William Bradford in New England. From the beginning, however, the literature of New England was also directed to the edification and instruction of the colonists themselves, intended to direct them in the ways of the godly. Rather rude

  4. Therefore the writing in this period was essentially two kinds: (1) practical matter-of-fact accounts of farming, hunting, travel, etc. designed to inform people “at home” what life was like in the new world, and, often, to induce their immigration; (2) highly theoretical, generally polemical, discussions of religious questions. • Furthermore, the influential Protestant work ethic, reinforced by the practical necessities of a hard pioneer life, inhibited the development of any reading matter designed simply for leisure-time entertainment. • It is the belief that work itself is good in addition to what it achieves; that time saved by efficiency or good fortune should not be spent in leisure but in doing further work; that idleness is always immoral and likely to lead to even worse sin since “the devil finds work for idle hands to do”. This belief later developed into the American philosophic idea Puritanism.

  5. 马萨诸塞海湾地区赞美诗篇 • The first work published in the Puritan colonies was the Bay Psalm Book (1640), and the whole effort of the divines who wrote furiously to set forth their views was to defend and promote visions of the religious state. They set forth their visions—in effect the first formulation of the concept of national destiny—in a series of impassioned histories and jeremiads from Edward Johnson’s Wonder-Working Providence (1654) to Cotton Mather’s epic Magnalia Christi Americana (1702). • Even Puritan poetry was offered uniformly to the service of God. Michael Wigglesworth’s Day of Doom (1662) was uncompromisingly theological, and Anne Bradstreet’s poems, issued as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650), were reflective of her own piety. The best of the Puritan poets, Edward Taylor, whose work was not published until two centuries after his death, wrote metaphysical verse, 创造神迹的天福 基督在北美的辉煌

  6. Sermons and tracts poured forth until austere Calvinism found its last utterance in the words of Jonathan Edwards. In the other colonies writing was usually more mundane and on the whole less notable, though the journal of the Quaker John Woolman is highly esteemed, and some critics maintain that the best writing of the colonial period is found in the witty and urbane observations of William Byrd, a gentleman planter of Westover, Virginia.

  7. 2. The Main Features of this period • American literature grew out of humble origins. Diaries, histories, journals, letters, commonplace books, travel books, sermons, in short, personal literature in its various forms, occupy a major position in the literature of the early colonial period. • In content these early writings served either God or colonial expansion or both. In form, if there was any form at all, English literary traditions were faithfully imitated and transplanted. • The Puritanism formed in this period was one of the most enduring shaping influences in American thought and American literature.

  8. 3. Puritanism • Simply speaking, American Puritanism just refers to the spirit and ideal of puritans who settled in the North American continent in the early part of the seventeenth century because of religious persecutions. In content it means scrupulous moral rigor, especially hostility to social pleasures and indulgences, that is strictness,sternness and austerity in conduct and religion. • With time passing it became a dominant factor in American life, one of the most enduring shaping influences in American thought and American Literature. To some extent it is a state of mind, a part of the national cultural atmosphere that the American breathes, rather than a set of tenets. • Actually it is a code of values, a philosophy of life and a point of view in American minds, also a two-faceted tradition of religious idealism and level-headed common sense.

  9. Part two. The period of Enlightenment and the Independence War (1765 -1800)

  10. I. Introduction • The 18th-century American enlightenment as a movement marked by an emphasis on rationality rather than tradition, scientific inquiry instead of unquestioning religious dogma, and representative government in place of monarchy. • Enlightenment thinkers and writers, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, were devoted to the ideals of justice, liberty, and equality as the natural rights of man. • In these period with the exception of outstanding political writing, such as Common sense, Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers and so on, few works of note appeared. Even if there appeared poetry and fiction, they were full of imitativeness and vague universality. So most Americans were painfully aware of their excessive dependence on English literary models. The search for a native literature became a national obsession.

  11. Despite these we should pay attention to several points in this period: • William Hill Brown (1765-1793) published the first American novel The Power of Sympathy in 1789. • Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810) was the first American author to attempt to live from his writing. He developed the genre of American Gothic. • The Dictionary edited by Noah Webster (1758-1843) based the American lexicography. Updated Webster’s dictionaries are still standard today. • Philip Freneau’s (1752-1832) was known as "the poet of the American Revolution". His major themes are death, nature, transition, and the human in nature. All of these themes become important in 19th century writing. All the romanticizing the wonders of nature in his writings...he searched for an American idiom in verse.

  12. II. Benjamin Franklin1706 - 1790(An Extraordinary Life and An Electric Mind)

  13. 1. His Life • Born the tenth of fifteen children in a poor candle and soap maker’s family, he had to leave school before he was eleven. • At twelve he was apprenticed to an older brother, James, a printer in Boston. • As a voracious reader he managed to make up for the deficiency by his own effort and began at 16 to publish essays under the pseudonym, Silence Dogood, essays commenting on social life in Boston. • When he was 17 he ran away to Philadelphia to make his own fortune marking the beginning of a long success story of an archetypal kind.

  14. He set himself up as an independent printer and publisher, found the Junto Club and subscription library, issued the immensely popular Poor Richard’s Almanac. • Retired around forty-two, he did what was to him a great happiness: read, make scientific experiments and do good to his fellowmen. He helped to find the Pennsylvania Hospital, an academy which led to the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Philosophical Society. • At the same time he did a lot of famous experiments and invented many things such as volunteer fire departments, effective street lighting, the Franklin Stove, bifocal glasses, efficient heating devices, lightning-rod and so on.

  15. Beginning his public career in the early fifties, he became a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, the Deputy Postmaster-General for the colonies, and for some eighteen years served as representative of the colonies in London. • During the War of Independence, he was made a delegate to the Continental Congress and a member of the committee to write the Declaration of Independence. One of the makers of the new nation, he was instrumental in bringing France into an alliance with America against England, and played a decisive role at the Constitutional Convention.

  16. 2. Major Works • Poor Richard’s Almanac • Maxims(谚语,格言)and axioms(哲理,格言) • Lost time is never found again. • A penny saved is a penny earned. • God help them that help themselves. • Fish and visitors stink in three days. • Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. • Ale in, truth out. • Eat not to dullness. Drink not to elevation. • Diligence is the Mother of Good Luck. • One Today is worth two tomorrow. • Industry pays debts. Despair encreaseth them.

  17. Autobiography • It is perhaps the first real post-revolutionary American writing as well as the first real autobiography in English. • It gives us the simple yet immensely fascinating record of a man rising to wealth and fame from a state of poverty and obscurity into which he was born, the faithful account of the colorful career of America’s first self-made man. • First of all, it is a puritan document. The most famous section describes his scientific scheme of self-examination and self-improvement. • It is also an eloquent elucidation of the fact that Franklin was spokesman for the new order of eighteenth century enlightenment, and that he represented in America all its ideas, that man is basically good and free, by nature endowed by God with certain inalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. • It is the pattern of Puritan simplicity, directness, and concision. The plainness of its style, the homeliness of imagery, the simplicity of diction, syntax and expression are some of the salient features we cannot mistake.

  18. 3. Evaluation • He was a rare genius in human history. Nature seemed particularly lavish and happy when he was shaped. Everything seems to meet in this one man, mind and will, talent and art, strength and ease, wit and grace, and he became almost everything: a printer, postmaster, citizen, almanac maker, essayist, scientist, inventor, orator, statesman, philosopher, political economist, ambassador, musician and parlor man. • He was the first great self-made man in America, a poor democrat born in an aristocratic age that his fine example helped to liberalize.

  19. Politically he brought the colonial era to a close. For quite some time he was regarded as the father of all Yankees, even more than Washington was. He was the only American to sign the four documents that created the United States: the declaration of Independence, the treaty of alliance with France, the treaty of peace with England, and the constitution. • Scientifically, as the symbol of America in the Age of Enlightenment, he invented a lot of useful implements. His research on electricity, his famous experiment with his kite line and many others made him the preeminent scientist of his day. • Literally, he really opened the story of American literature. D. H. Lawrance agreed that Franklin was everything but a poet. In the Scottish philosopher David Hume’s eyes he was America’s “first great man of letters”.