The Literature of a Split and a Reunited Nation
The rising conflict between the North and the South that ended in the Civil War was reflected in regional literature. The crusading spirit against Southern slavery in Harriet Beecher Stowe's overwhelmingly successful novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) can be compared with the violent anti-Northern diatribes of William Gilmore Simms. While the Civil War was taking its inexorable course, the case for reunion was set forth by President Abraham Lincoln in that purest and most exact statement of American political ideals, the Gettysburg Address.
Once the war was over, literature gradually regained a national identity amid expanding popularity, as writings of regional origin began to find a mass audience. The stories of the California gold fields by Bret Harte, the rustic novel ( The Hoosier Schoolmaster ; 1871) of Edward Eggleston, the rhymes of James Whitcomb Riley, the New England genre stories of Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, the sketches of Louisiana by George W. Cable, even the romance of the Old South woven by the poetry of Henry Timrod and Sidney Lanier and the fiction of Thomas Nelson Page—all were seized eagerly by the readers of the reunited nation. The outstanding example of genius overcoming any regionalism in scene can be found in many of the works of Mark Twain, most notably in his Huckleberry Finn (1884).
Drama after the Civil War and into the 20th cent. continued to rely, as it had before, on spectacles, on the plays of Shakespeare, and on some of the works of English and Continental playwrights. A few popular plays such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Rip Van Winkle were based on American fiction; others were crude melodrama. Realism, however, came to the theater with some of the plays of Bronson Howard, James A. Herne, and William Vaughn Moody.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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