By Ryan Simmons
A huge exam of Charles Chesnutt as a practitioner of realism. With the discharge of formerly unpublished novels and a up to date proliferation of serious experiences on his existence and paintings, Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932) has emerged as an important American author of his time—the age of Howells, Twain, and Wharton. In Chesnutt and Realism, Ryan Simmons breaks new floor through theorizing how understandings of literary realism have formed, and will proceed to form, the reception of Chesnutt’s work. Although Chesnutt is sometimes said because the so much favorite African American author of the realist interval, little cognizance has been paid to the vital query of this learn: what does it suggest to name Chesnutt a realist? A author whose occupation used to be circumscribed by means of the dismal racial politics of his period, Chesnutt refused to comply to literary conventions for depicting race. Nor did he use his ingenious talents to steer clear of the realities he and different African americans confronted. fairly, he experimented with methods of portraying fact which can elicit a suitable, proportionate reaction to it, as Simmons demonstrates in prolonged readings of every of Chestnutt’s novels, together with very important unpublished works which have been missed by means of prior critics. Chesnutt and Realism additionally addresses a apparently overlooked topic in American literary studies—the courting among American literary realism and race. by means of taking Chesnutt heavily as a contributor to realism, this publication articulates the ideas in which one African American highbrow helped to outline the discourses that encouraged his fate.
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Additional info for Chesnutt and Realism: A Study of the Novels (American Literary Realism and Naturalism)
22 introduction 1 Learning to Be a Realist Chesnutt’s Northern Novels O ne aspect of Charles Chesnutt’s career that makes it especially interesting is his frequent failure. His published writings had enough impact that he was among the most signi¤cant African American writers of the turn of the century; at the same time, his novels were rejected more often than they were published in his lifetime. Thus, he seems to exist on (and helps to de¤ne) the very edge of acceptability according to late-nineteenth- and early-twentiethcentury standards, at times writing texts that met with critical and commercial approbation and in other cases not even coming close.
Interpretation is, Chesnutt suggests, what constitutes the world, but the problem with such a situation is that people do not always understand what governs our readings of others; they analyze and use data in politically charged ways, even as they reveal their uncertainty about what the data might mean in the ¤rst place. For example, Stella re®ects on Truscott’s evolving attitude toward her: “He was coming gradually around to a realization of her quality. If dollars and cents had been involved, he would doubtless 28 chapter 1 have detected at ¤rst sight that she was a person of superior birth and culture” (109).
Admittedly, Chesnutt super¤cially can sound more like a product of the mid-nineteenth century than of the early twentieth, with his prosy narration and often sentimental appeal. What must not be overlooked, however, is that the sentimental strain in Chesnutt’s ¤ction is not any sort of a stopping point; in fact, his use of sentiment is ambivalent and quite complex. On one hand, he often mocks the prose style of romance, as the over-the-top purple prose and bad poetry of Mandy Oxendine and the critique of Warwick’s “trite” re®ections Introduction 19 in the opening of The House Behind the Cedars illustrate.
Chesnutt and Realism: A Study of the Novels (American Literary Realism and Naturalism) by Ryan Simmons