Humor and Revelation in American Literature: The Puritan Connection
Both the Genteel Tradition and Calvinistic Puritanism exhibited a sense of possessing inside information about the workings of the universe and the intentions of the Almighty. In Humor and Revelation in American Literature, Pascal Covici, Jr., traces this perspective from its early presence to the humorous tradition in America that has been related to the Old Southwest, showing how American Puritan thought was instrumental in the formative stages of American humor.
Covici argues that much of American literature works as humor does, surprising readers into sudden enlightenment. The humor from which Mark Twain derived his early models had the same sort of arrogance as American Puritan thought, especially in regard to social and political truths. Twain transcended the roots of that humor, which run from works of nineteenth-century Americans back to British forms of the eighteenth century. In doing so, he helped shape American literature.
In addition to reexamining Twain's art, Humor and Revelation in American Literature considers some of the writers long regarded as among the usual suspects in any consideration of cultural hegemony, including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville. Covici explores not so much the hypocrisy as the ambivalence repeatedly displayed in American literature. He demonstrates that even though our writers have always had a strong desire to avoid the influences of the past, their independence from its cultural, theological, and psychological effects has been much slower in coming than previously thought.
Original and well-written, Humor and Revelation in American Literature will be welcomed by all scholars and critics of American literature, especially those interested in Puritanism, major nineteenth-century writers, Southwestern humor, and Mark Twain.
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