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American Literary History and the Turn toward Modernity$
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Melanie V. Dawson and Meredith L. Goldsmith

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813056043

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813056043.001.0001

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“It Is Difficult to Disengage a Single Thread from the Living Web of a Nation’s Literature”

“It Is Difficult to Disengage a Single Thread from the Living Web of a Nation’s Literature”

Sarah Piatt and the Construction of Literary History

(p.27) 1 “It Is Difficult to Disengage a Single Thread from the Living Web of a Nation’s Literature”
American Literary History and the Turn toward Modernity

Karin L. Hooks

University Press of Florida

Arguing that the changing and more consolidated literary politics of the century’s turn helped make possible the canon wars of the twentieth century, this paper investigates the history of literary histories. Twentieth-century constructs of the field overlook an awareness that late-nineteenth century female literary historians envisioned in terms of a more inclusive and democratic American literary canon. Recovering a literary history largely erased by the turn into the twentieth century through a case study of Sarah Piatt’s career, this chapter focuses on two female literary historians of the 1890s: Ellen Mackay Hutchinson and Jeanette Gilder, whose literary anthologies include Piatt’s writing, unlike those of the following century. Hutchinson, who (with Edmund Clarence Stedman) edited a sizeable collection of American texts, the eleven-volume Library of American Literature, and Jeanette Gilder, co-editor of The Critic, who hosted a popular election to identify the top 125 American women writers of 1890, made arguments for the inclusion of Piatt in the canon that are worth revisiting in light of turn-of-the-century mechanisms for erasing the literary history of which Piatt was a part.

Keywords:   Canon, female literary historians, Literary history, Anthologies, Women writers, Ellen Mackay Hutchinson, Jeanette Gilder, Sarah Piatt

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