As you may know, realism in Europe began to take shape as early as the 1830s, and the second half of the XIX century naturalism delineated. In the U.S. this period was marked, respectively, by the intensive development and flourishing of romantic art. Prerequisites for realism in American literature developed only in 1860 due to the Civil War between North and South. The war destroyed well-established social order, not only the notorious slave way of the South but also the oldest democracies of the North. They were replaced by modern, imperialist, industrial society.
The Civil War was the greatest crisis in the life of the nation, a radical turning point in its history, which has dramatically changed and redirected the development of American literature. Military experience required incarnation. But to describe this tough, bloody, and dirty war, to describe following total confusion of the Reconstruction in a romantic way was possible only in lyric poetry, with its high degree of abstraction, but not in prose.
It required other methods, which have long been in the possession of European literature, but not American. Direct imitation of Europeans was excluded: too great was the originality and variety of national material. At first, however, some reliance on the overseas experience was not precluded, especially on Dickens and other English realists and naturalists.
It is noteworthy that a trickle of realism that managed to break through the veil of total stupor, was delineated in American literature during the years of the War. Therefore, Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis, who deliberately sought inspiration in “this everyday, vulgar American life,” released the novel “Life in steel mills” (1861) and a novel about life in the slums, “Margaret House” (1862). In the future, the writer has remained true to the chosen topic.
Attempts at artistic development by American realism military experience began in late 1860. An essential tool in this task was, more numerous than ever, descriptions of the war memoirs of its participants, chronicles and diaries of soldiers. By itself, the language of these certificates, simple, sometimes even colloquial, roughly expressive, paved the way for a new method in the literature of the United States.
First steps have been made largely groping and also not excluding the experience of great European predecessors primarily Thackeray and Stendhal.
These were the works on the Civil War by Thomas Nelson Page, Albion Turzhe, George Washington Cable’s. As well as the first novel by John William DeForest “Miss Ravenel out to northerners” (1867). Despite strong battle scenes and unvarnished picture of military life, partly anticipated Hemingway’s prose, DeForest, and the more the rest of the military novelists of the XIX century, seemed to justify Whitman’s statement: “The real war will never get in the books.”
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