Humor and Revelation in American Literature: The Puritan Connection

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University of Missouri Press, 1997 - Literary Criticism - 226 pages

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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Contents

Casting Off and Getting Under
4
RELUCTANTLY INDEPENDENT
10
Responses and Intimations of Crossing Over
23
Melville the American Difference and Richard Chase
36
GODS CHOSEN PEOPLE
47
Megalomania With a British Accent
53
Britain Versus the Bay Colony? Yes and
68
Of Tolerance Intolerance and Bishop Fleetwoods
75
The Simple Cobler and the Masks of Wise
119
From Wise and Franklin Mark Twains Triumphant
127
THE BASIS OF LAUGHTER
137
Affectation Againand Certainty
143
Disgust and Gentility
150
Mystery Within
162
THE PURITAN ROOTS OF AMERICAN HUMOR
174
BIBLIOGRAPHY
217

Toleration Belief and the Powerlessness of the Will
87
VOICE COUNTRY AND CLASS
101
The Triumph of the Country
113

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About the author (1997)

Pascal Covici, Jr., is E. A. Lilly Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He is the author or editor of several books, including Mark Twain's Humor: The Image of a World.

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