American Literature: Beginnings to 1865

Civil War

Antebellum America
Before the Civil War: Industrial Revolution, Technological advance.

Abolition Movement

American Gothic
Supernatural, ghosts, monsters, death. Rational vs. Irrational themes. Puritanism. Comes from a past of slavery and hostile american indian relations. Washington Irving introduced this genre who wrote “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Edgar Allen Poe, James Fenimore Cooper…

American Romanticism
Period of renaissance and art. Morals, intuition.The world is inherently good, but society corrupted it. Melville and Dickinson are two major figures.

Supreme Court Dred Scott Decision
People of African descent (both slave and free) were not protected by the Constitution and were not U.S. citizens

Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the Eastern region of the United States as a protest to the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church taught at Harvard Divinity School. Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman,

William Cullen Bryant
Wrote the famous poem “Thanatopsis” when he was less than 20. Made the Evening Post one of the most respected newspapers in the country; campaigned for the creation of Central Park in New York City; translated Homer’s Greek classics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, in his old age.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Abraham Lincoln met this author and said, “So this is the little lady who started the big war.” Wrote a very popular novel after her sister challenged her saying, “If I could write like you, I would do something about the slavery issue.”

Lydia Maria Child
Wrote on behalf of women’s rights and the rights of Native Americans. Her New York City newspaper column of the 1840s was read by thousands and helped create new opportunities for women journalists in the US.

James Fenimore Cooper
Wrote the Leather-Stocking Tales which included The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer. The first successful American novelist. This author’s first book was written as the result of a casual bet with his wife that he could write a better book than the one he had been reading to her.

Emily Dickinson
An author who died in the same home in which she was born; her poetry was not much appreciated during her lifetime and much of it would have been lost had it not been for Mabel Todd– the wife of a professor at Amherst College which this author’s father helped establish.

Frederick Douglass
A prolific speech maker who was a well-know and a persuasive orator with a deep, melodious voice. Spoke about his anti-slavery issues in the U.S. Marshall; spoke on behalf of African-Americans with Lincoln and organized his people to fight in the Civil War.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
This author as a boy was so poor that he shared a coat with his brother. He resigned his pastorate because of concerns about the Lord’s supper. He didn’t have to worry about money because of his wife’s legacy (she died after they were married only 16 months). He traveled to Europe several times and also had lecture tours in the midwest, but had his retreat in Concord. Wrote “Nature”, “Self-Reliance,” and “The American Scholar.”

Fanny Fern
The pen name for Sarah Willis Parton, this woman became one of the first women in the United States to have her own newspaper column (at $100 a column). A feminist author who was witty and satirical. She wrote about putting on her husband’s suit so she could take a walk with him in the rain without the encumbrance of wet hoop skirts.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
He wrote The Scarlet letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and The marble Faun. Lived some years as a sort of a hermit, but then got married. This author wrote about a husband who killed his wife trying to help her attain “perfection” and about a young man lured to an evil meeting in a dark forest one night.

Washington Irving
American readers acknowledged this author as the first great writer of the United States and cherished The Sketch Book. The first American to achieve an international literary reputation. Wrote Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Harriet Jacobs
Helped the Quakers in their efforts to help freed slaves and also wrote “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.”

Abraham Lincoln
He took the leading role in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery everywhere and forever in the United States; was truly a master of language and a great orator; was killed by an actor.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The most beloved poet of his time, this man taught languages and literature at Bowdoin College and Harvard; he wrote the poems “Hiawatha” and “Evangeline.”

Herman Melville
Many thought this author was crazy; he wrote Bartleby, The Scrivener which is about a psychologically needy man; many of his works were not popular when written but there was sort of “revival” of his work just before he died. Wrote Typee and Omoo related to experiences in the South Sea Islands and on ships; also wrote the famous whaling story Moby-Dick

Edgar Allen Poe
He was expelled from west Point and was an alcoholic; he secretly married a 13-year old who died only a few years later of a burst blood vessel. He died when he was only 40.

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
Her mother was Anishinabe and her father Irish. She is the first know Native American Literary writer.

Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney
She was the most popular female poet of the early national and antebellum period. She wrote antislavery poetry well before abolitionism. Her poem “The Suttee” is about the Indian practice of burning widows alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres.

Henry David Thoreau
Wrote Resistance to Civil Government (also know as Civil Disobedience) which affected the passivist ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. Wrote against materialism in America and encouraged simplicity, living this lifestyle himself. Some might see him as the original “hippie.” Lived in a cabin at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts for two years.

John Greenleaf Whittier
Wrote some of the earliest poetry on American Village and rural life, like in a poem on being snow-bound; born of a Quaker family.

Walt Whitman
Wrote famous poems collected in “Leaves of Grass”; held a public office and was dismissed for his explicit sexual orientation.

Lincoln “Second Inaugural Address”– 1865
“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'”

Washington Irving “Rip Van Winkle”
“The very village seemed altered: it was larger and more populous. There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors—strange faces at the windows-every thing was strange. His mind now began to migive him, that both he and the world around him were bewitched.”

William Cullen Bryant
“He, who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread along,
Will lead my steps aright.”

H.W. Longfellow “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport”
“How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves.
Close by the street of this fair sea-port town;
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!”

Walt Whitman “Song of Myself” from “Leaves of Grass”
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”

“Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.”

Edgar Allen Poe “The Tell-Tale Heart”
“I think it was his eye! – yes it was this! He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.”

Emily Dickinson “Poem 1732”
“My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befel.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.”