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Canons and Contexts$
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Paul Lauter

Print publication date: 1991

Print ISBN-13: 9780195055931

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195055931.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 27 November 2021

Race and Gender in the Shaping of the American Literary Canon A Case Study from the Twenties

Race and Gender in the Shaping of the American Literary Canon A Case Study from the Twenties

(p.22) Race and Gender in the Shaping of the American Literary Canon A Case Study from the Twenties
Canons and Contexts

Paul Lauter

Oxford University Press

In its original form this chapter was delivered at a late-1970s forum sponsored by the Commission on the Status of Women in the Profession of the Modern Language Association. It had a kind of underground, mimeographed existence for a few years before seeing print in Feminist Studies in 1983. It has made its way and continues, I think, to be useful for those studying the canon. I have therefore not undertaken to change it. Judith Fetterley has raised one important criticism of the piece. In her fine introduction to Provisions: A Reader From 19th-century American Women (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985, pp. 18–19) she argues that the exclusion of nineteenth-century women writers from the literary canon began far earlier than the 1920s, in fact during the nineteenth century itself. There is significant evidence to support that contention. John Macy’s 1911 volume The Spirit of American Literature, for example, devotes its sixteen chapters to sixteen white men, though his “Preface” expresses admiration for the work of Jewett, Freeman and Wharton, and even passingly for Stowe. Brander Matthews’ similar volume, An Introduction to the Study of American Literature (1896, rev. 1911), focuses fifteen chapters on individual white men and then devotes one to “other writers,” including Whitman and Stowe. These very likely reflected the state of much academic opinion, though volumes like An American Anthology, 1787–1900 (ed., Edmund Clarence Stedman, 1900) and Mildred Cabell Watkins’ young adult primer, American Literature (1894) offer countervailing evidence. And, of course, as I outline in the article, other older academics like Fred Lewis Pattee and Arthur Hobson Quinn offered a far wider version of American letters. Fetterley thus provides what I think is a useful corrective to broad generalizations about academic canons, especially with respect to early and mid-nineteenth-century writers. But the central point, in my view, is that dominantly male academic accounts of the American canon were far less weighty around the turn of the century than they became in and after the 1920s.

Keywords:   Aesthetic standards, Bay Psalm Book, Coeducation, Ethnic studies, Immigration, Literacy, Native American, Oberlin College, Puritanism, Ransom, John Crowe

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