Review by Choice Review
A masterful realization of an ambitious undertaking: the detailed biography of the profession of American literature studies, from its origins in the first stirrings of an American literary self-consciousness in the early 19th century through painful growth into the early years of this century and to mature achievements up to 1948, the year of Robert E. Spiller's Literary History of the United States, whose story provides the climactic conclusion. Vanderbilt's narrative actually begins, not in the 18th century, but with the planning, by W.P. Trent et al., for the Cambridge History of American Literature (4 v., 191721), ``our first large-scale cooperative literary history,'' which ``ushered in the distinctive profession of American literature scholarship.'' From there we follow lines of indebtedness to earlier ``trail-blazers,'' with succinct biographical sketches en route, then return to the CHAL's years of production, a time of national ferment when ``professors'' were under attack from young critics outside the academy. We track the steady but slow growth of professional aspirations, assisted by the achievement of V.L. Parrington and furthered by the literary debates of the 1930s among humanists, leftists, Agrarians, nationalists, and New Critics, which culminated in the LHUS. The whole book, therefore, is required reading for teachers and scholars of American literature and for the larger intellectual community concerned with who we are, what we have done, and where we are heading. Enhanced by bountiful notes, engaging to read, this work is highly recommended for graduate and undergraduate libraries.-J.R. Vitelli, Lafayette College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
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