Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Next section of my literature book

I'm finally getting a chance to turn to part 3 of my literature book (U.S. from post-Civil War through World War I). In the general Part 3 intro, I may talk a bit about Horatio Alger, whom I've been both reading and reading about. Then, going into today, I had figured my 3 chapters would be on ??, Theodore Dreiser's The Financier and The Titan, and Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. But I've now moved a bit further forward.

For ?? I had been leaning towards William Dean Howell's The Rise of Silas Lapham, but also considering mentioning Mark Twain's and Charles Dudley Warner's The Gilded Age. But today I decided to do Twain-Warner, not Howells (whom I'll at most mention in passing). It's not just darker, but also I think significantly richer, and also more attuned to what I'd enjoy discussing about that era. There's something a bit simplistic and not terribly interestingly moralistic about the Howells novel, although I do on balance like it.

For Dreiser, I had initially thought I might just cover The Financier, but (as I may have mentioned in an earlier post) when I re-read both over the winter break I realized that The Titan is, if anything, even richer. David Frum's great comment is that these are Ayn Rand novels written by a socialist.

It took me most of the way through Wharton (also a re-reading, from many decades ago) to see a through-line for writing about it, but now I think I have a good one, although it will be many months before I get there. It's about values that are really aesthetic, not moral, that money is destroying. I'd also considered Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, but that, too, is less rich, although it has an interesting and slightly complementary perspective. (And I'll have to re-see the movie; that's also been several decades.)

Of course, I can only do so much of these things while I am teaching and otherwise busy during the semester.  They require a lot of concentration and focus - I think, more than when I am engaged in more familiar (to me) types of projects. But I do have sabbatical the next two falls, although I plan to travel a lot during those periods as well.

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