The New England Renaissance and American Literary Ethnocentrism
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CitationBuell, Lawrence. 1985. The New England renaissance and American literary ethnocentrism. Prospects 10: 409-422.
AbstractJust as patriot orators invoked the spirit of Puritanism in their remonstrances against British tyranny, just as the nineteenth-century cult of Pilgrimism taught all America to look back upon the Pilgrim fathers as everyone's fathers, so modern American intellectual history has proclaimed the Puritan origins of the American way. The result has been a scholarly upsurge, during the past half-century, of “Puritan legacy” studies, of which Perry Miller was the prime mover and Sacvan Bercovitch is the leading contemporary theorist. So far as the interpretation of literary history is concerned, these studies have given a new authority and depth to the old New England-centered map of American literary tradition first drawn up by the Yankee-oriented genteel intellectual establishment of the late nineteenth century that presided over the literary institutions whose prestige had been built upon the reputation of the perpetrators of the antebellum New England Renaissance. The old-fashioned interpretation of American literary history and the new-fashioned interpretation of American civil religion as a nationalized version of Puritan ideology have combined to create a strong presumption, at least for specialists in New England Romantic literature, that theirs was the key formative moment in American literary history as a whole.
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