Is there such a thing as the Great American Novel?

TUESDAY TRIVIA:snip20161225_16

That is today’s query. I subscribe to Lit Hub, a free online magazine and there are many articles that pop up I find of interest. I was getting it daily but I just don’t have time to read the featured eight to ten articles a day so now I get it on weekends only. If you have not heard of it you can view it here.

The author, Emily Temple writes,

“On this date in 1868, novelist John William DeForest coined the now inescapable term “the great American novel” in the title of an essay in The Nation. Now, don’t forget that in 1868, just a few years after the end of the Civil War, “America” was still an uncertain concept for many—though actually, in 2017 we might assert the same thing, which should give you a hint as to why the term “great American novel” is so problematic.  

At the time of his writing, DeForest claimed that the Great American Novel, which he defined as “the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence,” had not yet been achieved, though he thought he could spot it on the horizon—he noted that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was “the nearest approach to the desired phenomenon.” (He also pooh-poohed both Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, …”)

The article then goes on to a list. I know how much people who read books like lists but I thought a couple of choices on the list didn’t belong there but I won’t mention details as I know everyone has their own opinions. You could argue this list forever and never reach agreement.

What I did enjoy in the article is the illustrated map (here). You can link to the map for more detail through the article but here is the picture of it:

snip20170110_1As I am such a visual learner I love it. It would be fun to take the trip around the country and read  all of the books. For you ‘challenge people’ you might like to do this. After all you have a full year ahead of you.

The question is: Next time you read an American novel ask yourself, Is this “a Great American novel?” or is it “THE Great American Novel. ”

I see the article has been featured on the John Steinbeck centre Facebook page with a conversation about his books being on the list. It comes down to:

Is there such a thing as The Great American Novel over all others? Or is it an impossibility.  It was a fun read.

(All highlighted text above goes to a link.)









10 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as the Great American Novel?

  1. BTW Can I ask why every comment of mine goes into moderation? I have my blog set so that only the first comment from a new person is moderated. Once I’ve accepted/approved that commenter’s address, their future comments are accepted immediately (unless they change address or if occasionally something odd happens to their source computer address). Is there a reason you need to moderate every comment? I hope this doesn’t sound rude, but just thought I’d ask.


    1. I didn’t know you could set it to moderate only the first one. Where do I find that setting and I will do so. I got so much spam on my blogspot blog so didn’t even think of it. Thanks for telling me.


      1. I wondered if this were the case. Go to settings – then Discussion. Scroll down to this the little section titles BEFORE A COMMENT APPEARS.

        You want “Comment must be manually approved” to be unchecked, and “Comment author must have a previously approved comment” to be checked.

        That should ensure that you receive notification if you’ve never “seen” them before but after that, their comments post immediately.


  2. I subscribe to a few online journals but like you I just. cannot. keep. up.

    I’m not really a visual learner but I love that map. And I love that books like The awakening, My Antonia, and Their eyes were watching God, and on it. Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. if i had a candidate for the GAN, it would be a cartoon: POGO by Walt Kelley… i grew up reading his books with great jocularity and i still believe he depicted America as it is better than any book i’ve ever read…


  4. I might add that the list is very white which doesn’t surprise me coming out of American but considering the time the original thought was conceived people of colour didn’t feature much, if at all.


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