Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gilding the Lily

"Nanny, the younger [Corey sister], had read a great many novels with a keen sense of their inaccuracy as representations of life, and had seen a great deal of life with a sad regret for its difference from fiction."
-from The Rise of Silas Lapham, by William Dean Howells

So, six months into 2010, the goals I had at the beginning of this year have pretty much fallen through. Not surprising, exactly, as deviation from one's resolutions is as much a part of making them as is thinking you're going to keep them. Yet I've had some genuine reasons for failing to read as much Latin American and world literature as I had hoped: the spring semester of courses entailed a lot more reading than the fall, for whatever reason, and I had projected my leisure-reading time according to what I was able to get done in the fall. This is in large part why there have been few posts, particularly over the last 3 months, though not really feeling like blogging also has something to do with it.

There are more important reasons than just lack of time, however; like all grad students, I've been undergoing a sort of persistent personal crisis of how much I have yet to read in my area to feel moderately well-informed about what it is I say I'm studying. It hasn't helped that mid-way through the spring semester, I realized that I felt much more at home and was much, much more interested in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era than in contemporary fiction or culture; not previously having had much sustained interest in the literature of the period, I have some serious gaps.

Rectifying that is the project for the summer and, obviously, the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future as well. I no longer feel as compelled as I once did to blog about all or at least most of the things I read, but when I do blog, it will likely have some application to this period of literature and history. I hope that won't be boring to any of you who have hung on while I've let this blog languish. It is, at least as far as my experience goes, not a terribly familiar period, and many fewer books from it continue to be read than in the periods preceding it (the American Renaissance) and following it (Lost Generation/Harlem Renaissance/modernism). Dreiser and Wharton are still commonly read, I suppose, and obviously Twain, James, and Crane, but there's not quite the same cachet for the Gilded Age/Progressive Era as for those more illustrious eras on either side. I don't kid myself that I'll be correcting that distribution, but I do hope to share some of the more enjoyable and intriguing aspects of the period's literature, and some of the better criticism written about it.

I intend to interpret the starting points and ending points of the period as broadly as possible, even if that means making virtual nonsense of the terms "Gilded Age" and "Progressive Era" as they have been commonly interpreted. There simply isn't a term that is as inclusive as I wish to be, unfortunately. 1865 is as early as I can reasonably go, but there are numerous writers in the 1920s I want to pull in, and I may even venture a little bit into the 1930s at times.

This period won't be my exclusive focus on this blog, but it is something I'm very excited about, and I hope you'll find it worthwhile. Watch for a post on The House of Mirth and The Rise of Silas Lapham coming soon.

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