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


Page 253

and silver and brocade; ladies who ardently expect new bales of clothing from London but who joyfully sacrifice all such delights during the Revolution; ladies who rise late, take the air genteelly, play at lovely needlework, and spend their nights at balls of elaborate splendor; and yet ladies who know the saddle and, when need comes, put off their squeamishness and rough it in the most dangerous escapades without a tremor. One formula furnishes something like half the notable plots: an honest American gentleman, mortally opposed to a villain who is generally British, courts a beautiful American girl through acute vicissitudes and wins her only in the bitter end just before or after killing his wicked rival in a duel. As if this were a theater of marionettes there are only a few puppets, though there are plenty of handsome costumes to vary the entertainment. As might be expected, the style of all these novels approaches identity, a fluid, languid style, ready to slip into blank verse at the provocation of any heightened moment, and constantly tinctured with a faint archaism of diction and rhythm. “There is an old book my grandchildren love to hear me read to them,” says Hugh Wynne in a tone which would fit nearly every novel of the time. “It is the ‘Morte d’Arthur,’ done into English by Sir Thomas Malory. Often when I read therein of how Arthur the king bade farewell to the world and to the last of the great company of his Knights of the Round Table, this scene at Whitehall slip [Washington’s farewell to his officers] comes back to me, and I seem to see once more those gallant soldiers, and far away the tall figure of surely the knightliest gentleman our days have known.”



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