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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 129

heredity upon a ground of shrewd realistic observation; Bayard Taylor employed a similar composition of elements; Louisa M. Alcott in Little Women (1868) and Thomas Bailey Aldrich in The Story of a Bad Boy (1870) turned away from the watery illusions which in respectable circles had furnished the substance for children’s books; at the end of the decade the loud laughter of Mark Twain began to clear the scene. The distinction, however, of writing the first American novel which may be called realistic in a modern sense belongs to Colonel John W. De Forest of Connecticut, whose Miss Ravenel’s Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (1867), as William Dean Howells said, was “of an advanced realism before realism was known by that name.” Not half heroic or partizan enough to suit the contemporary feeling about the war, Miss Ravenel’s Conversion missed the vogue of a war book, and when the tendency in fiction had caught up with it apparently it seemed too much a war book to fit the new taste. But no other novel of the decade has been less dimmed by a half century of realism. Coldly truthful in its descriptions of battles and camps, crisp and pointed in its dialogue, penetrating, if not over-subtle, in its character analysis, sensible in its plot, and in its general temper alert and sophisticated, it is still almost as convincing as it was once precocious. De Forest wrote numerous other novels but none so notable. All of them suffered from the rivalry of local color in its romantic phases.
  While these phases originated on the frontier, so often influential in American culture, it was also on the frontier, though in another section of it, that realism took its earliest definite stand. Perhaps some bareness in the life



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