novel: The American Novel

The American Novel

American novels in the 19th cent. were explicitly referred to as romances. James Fenimore Cooper's historical novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826), Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter (1850), and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851)—the latter two heavily allegorical and containing supernatural elements—properly belong in this category. In the last decades of the century, however, a shift toward realism occurred. Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1883), a revival of the picaresque novel, is romantic in its Mississippi River setting but realistic in its satirical attack on religious hypocrisy and racial persecution.

By the end of the century Henry James had brought his moral vision and powers of psychological observation to the novel in numerous works, including The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), and The Ambassadors (1903). These novels are not only masterpieces of realism but also—in their carefully crafted form, experimental point of view, and superb style—supreme examples of the novel as a literary genre. A lesser figure, William Dean Howells, realistically portrayed a marriage and divorce in A Modern Instance (1882) and the newly rich classes in The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885).

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