Unwritten War

Unwritten War : American Writers and the Civil War

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Product details

  • Paperback | 422 pages
  • 340 x 510mm | 43,091g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0195198190
  • 9780195198195

Review Text

The author of the well-known Writers on the Left explores, in this fifth volume of the "Impact of the Civil War" series, the influence of the conflict on American literature. Aaron argues that, with few exceptions, American writers of that time did not deal with the War in any significant way. The experience was just too massive: Hawthorne refused to align himself; to Melville it was a mockery; and Whitman dealt with but a part. All the literati of the day were more than casually touched by the War, however, even figures as remote from the battles as James, Henry Adams, William Dean Howells and Mark Twain (who joined briefly and then deserted) and of course its reverberations are felt down to this day. Aaron is trying to account for the absence of an American Tolstoy. The Whitman of Specimen Days, Stephen Vincent Benet, the New England Abolitionists, Stephen Crane, John W. De Forest (Miss Ravenel's Conversion), even, if you will, Margaret Mitchell - none of these meet Aaron's specifications for a masterwork. Not until Faulkner does he find a writer whose work conveys the essence of the War's meaning. He attributes that to the fact that Faulkner's concern was not with heroes and battles but with the "consciousness of a people." But overall there are grave lapses in the literature of the War, the most outstanding being the inability of these writers to deal with the Negro as a person. In short, Aaron concludes that, "Our classical writers simply did not know the land and people they spoke to and spoke for." A painstaking and provocative work broader in its treatment but more academic than Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore with which it stands comparison. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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