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The Origins of American Literature (0)

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The origins of American literature
The first Americans were explorers and settlers , adventurers and idealists who crossed the ocean in search of new opportunities or to escape the poverty and intolerance . Their writings were matter -of- fact accounts of life in America, which explained colonisation to Englishmen back in the homeland. An example of this form of writing is John Smith’s A True Relation of Virginia , which is widely recognized to be the first example of Am lit.
The early years of colonisation produced a mass of utilitarian writings including biographies, accounts of voyages, diaries, sermons, pamphlets. Much of the material addressed the problems of Church and State. There were few examples of fiction, poetry or drama. Anne Bradstreet of Massachusetts published some lyrical poems of high literary quality ( 1650 ) and Edward Taylor, who was born in England but lived in Boston, wrote some poetry in the style of John Donne and the metaphysical poets . All 17th cent Am writings were, both in content and form, similar to English lit of the same period .
The great literary figures of the 18th cent were Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and Thomas Jefferson ( 1743 -1826).
The common sense and witty aphorisms of Franklin’s popular Poor Richard ’s Almanac series appealed to colonial readers. Franklin also wrote effectively on the question of allegiance to the British crown but it was his protégé, Thomas Paine, who inspired colonists during the dark days of the Revolution with his stirring pamphlet Common Sense (1776), which sold over half a million copies, and American Crisis Papers (1776-1783).
Thomas Jefferson was also an influential political writer . He made important contributions to the 85 essays of The Federalist papers, which effectively outlined the Am governmental system and the basic principles of republican theory. Jefferson also wrote the Declaration of Independence (1776), which identifies the moment in which the nation was born, and in stirring language explains the reasons for its birth .
In the post-Revolution period the search began for a characteristic Am lit. The most important writers of the early 19th cent were Washington Irving (1783-1859), James Fennimore Cooper (1789- 1851 ) and Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).
Irving’s first venture into lit was a collaboration with his brother and a friend on the Salmagundi Papers (1807-1808), a serial publication, later reissued as a book, which depicted life in New York in the first decade of the cent. This was followed by A History of New York (1809), a satirical attack on the upper class old Dutch families of New York. Irving’s early works were very heavily influenced by neo- classical satirists such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. After he met Sir Walter Scott and became familiar with imaginative German lit, a new romantic note became evident in works such as The Sketch Book (1819-1820), which includes Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Bracebridge Hall (1822). Irving was the first Am writer to win the respect of British lit critics . (also the first internationally famous author from the USA)
James Fenimore Cooper was perhaps the most popular writer of the period. He drew inspiration for his five volume series of Leatherstocking Tales (1823- 1841 ) from Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. The tales, which include The Last of the Mohicans, recount the adventures of the great frontiersman Natty Bumppo, nicknamed ‘Leatherstocking’. Cooper shows great skill in weaving history into the exciting plots and in creating credible and identifiably Am characters. His works sold widely in Am, Britain and Europe .
Edgar Allan Poe was a southerner who moved north to find work as an author and editor in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. His gothic tales of horror included the Romantic elements of fantasy and terror . His masterpieces The Fall of The House of Usher (1839) and The Masque of the Red Death (1842) show a deeply analytical mind which Poe also applied to literary criticism. His novel The Murders in the Rue Morgue is widely considered to have given rise to the genre of detective stories . The characteristic mixture and haunting imagery
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