Monday, June 05, 2006

Re: Hunting the Great Cliché = Great American Novel

On the Web,

has the Wayback Machine ... it shows you websites as they existed in
the years past ...


On 6/5/06, Barbara Reisman <> wrote:
> OK, there's the "Great American Etc." solved, but the author references a
> wayback machine, and I wonder if any of our knowledgeable docents know where
> THAT one is from?"
> Barbara
> >From: "eConsultant - Sanjeev Narang" <>
> >Reply-To:
> >To: "TAM Group" <>
> >Subject: Hunting the Great Cliché = Great American Novel
> >Date: Sun, 4 Jun 2006 22:38:56 -0700
> >
> >
> >History of the term ... "Great American Novel" ....
> >
> >(slightly late for the GAT exhibit ... but good useful information,
> >nonetheless.)
> >
> >Sanjeev
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >Hunting the Great Cliché
> >The Strangest Thing About That New York Times List Was Its Premise
> >
> >
> >The question seems simple enough, even if the answer is not: "What is
> >the best work of fiction of the last 25 years?" The idle American
> >contest in the New York Times two weeks ago asked 124 critics,
> >authors, and editors for the best work, not a best work, the
> >implication being that there can only be one. Toni Morrison's Beloved
> >was duly cited. But the singularity of that question begged the cliché
> >that Times critic A. O. Scott immediately invoked in his introductory
> >essay: the Great American Novel. Granted, Scott classes the Great
> >American Novel as a fantastical creature along the lines of Sasquatch,
> >but then he promptly straps on his snowshoes and tries to hunt it down
> >anyway.
> >
> >Where did this mythical beast come from?
> >
> >The Great Gatsby is one of the other usual quarries whenever critics
> >don their dorky orange hunting vests. Yet even by that novel's
> >publication in 1925, our literary Sasquatch was old and toothless,
> >because a few years earlier critic Carl Van Doren had spotted the Big
> >Hairy Phrase loping through an 1872 North American Review essay by T.
> >S. Perry. Dig up that volume and you discover that the first thing
> >Perry did was dismiss the idea: "We have often wondered that the
> >people who raise the outcry for the 'Great American Novel' did not see
> >that, so far from being of any assistance to our fellow countryman who
> >is trying to win fame by writing fiction, they have rather stood in
> >his way by setting up before him a false aim for his art, and by
> >giving the critical reader a defective standard by which to judge his
> >work."
> >
> >That's hardly an auspicious beginning. But I couldn't help feeling
> >that I'd encountered the phrase even earlier. And unlike Carl Van
> >Doren, I was backed by the greatest intellectual resource in human
> >history: a university library that sells Mountain Dew in the lobby.
> >Along with its endless aisles of crumbling bound magazines, there are
> >also millions of searchable pages of 19th-century periodicals now
> >digitized by everyone from the New York Times and the Times of London
> >to the Making of America project and But even
> >before I sat down and booted up, I remembered where I'd first spotted
> >the phrase: in a book by that most astute of American observers, P. T.
> >Barnum.
> >
> >"In what business is there not humbug?" he asks in his 1866 book
> >Humbugs of the World. Barnum immediately cites crooked milkmen, shifty
> >land agents, and of course, "the publisher with his great American
> >Novel." Lest you suspect that old P. T. is a little hard on the
> >publishers, dialing our library Wayback Machine a decade backward
> >materializes this bit of fluffery from the Tioga County Agitator for
> >February 1, 1855: "This is the great American novel so loudly called
> >for by the new party." And what immortal novel is it? Stanhope
> >Burleigh, by Helen Dhu. You know, the famous novel about... oh, you
> >don't know.
> >
> >Still, the choice of Helen Dhu is telling: It was the pseudonym used
> >by Ellen Brown Lester for what was in fact a deeply bigoted and
> >anti-Catholic novel. The full title of the book is the almost
> >comically baiting Stanhope Burleigh: The Jesuits in Our Homes. And
> >that "new party" that the newspaper had referred to as demanding a
> >Great American Novel? That would be the xenophobic Know-Nothing Party.
> >I won't go into 1850s political history, but let's just say that if
> >they were still around today, they'd send the National Guard to build
> >a 20-foot high fence around Ireland.
> >
> >All of which makes the very notion of the Great American Novel sound,
> >well, un-American. And so it is. The earliest use I found dates to
> >August 7, 1852, where it was used not by a critic but by a publisher
> >right you were, Mr. Barnum to hype the first serialized issue of a new
> >book. The great novel in question? Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe's work
> >certainly has a historical claim, if not an aesthetic one, to that
> >honor. But the granting of such a title does seem curiously
> >restrictive in a country composed of a multitude of regional voices
> >and genres, a defiant and unruly mess of democratic artistry. To
> >create a hierarchy to coronate the Great American Novel smacks of the
> >monarchic class system this country was founded to spurn. And perhaps
> >that's because the idea was invented by Stowe's publisher in London.
> >
> >"The Great American Novel" is not American at all: It's British.
> >
> >Paul Collins is the author of several books, including Banvard's
> >Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World.
> >
> >--
> >Regards,
> >Sanjeev Narang
> >
> >***
> >
> >email: ask {*at*} eConsultant dot com
> ><a href=""></a>
> >
> >>
> >

Sanjeev Narang


email: ask {*at*} eConsultant dot com
<a href=""></a>

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