Nonfiction > Carl Van Doren > The American Novel > Subject Index > Page 254
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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 254

  The reference to Malory—who in The Choir Invisible is cited as the truest teacher of virtue—illuminates the aims and methods of all rococo romancers. Writing of a time so recent as the Civil War or Reconstruction, they could use a dialect almost contemporary, but the moment they drew near to the Revolution or the Settlement they fell into the language which the nineteenth century had thought the fit medium for medieval deeds. The deeper American past to the romancers seemed a sort of middle age. Their inferiority to the Cooper of the Leather-Stocking Tales or to the Melville of Moby Dick lies in the fact that whereas Cooper and Melville, much as they might invent, still worked upon a solid basis in a mood not too far from the mood of realism, their successors wrote romance pure and simple, even when they were most erudite. Romance was in the air. Not all the publishing enterprise which developed romances into “best sellers” and distributed millions of copies could have done so but for the moment of national expansiveness which attended the Spanish War. Patriotism and jingoism, altruism and imperialism, passion and sentimentalism, shook the temper which had slowly been stiffening since the Civil War. Now, with a rush of unaccustomed emotions the national imagination sought out its own past, delighting in it, wallowing in it. Had the romancers who met the mood been more deeply grounded in reality and less sentimental, or had the national mood lasted for a longer time, some eminent masterpiece might have emerged. None did, and the gold lace and gilt of the narratives actually evoked began to tarnish almost as soon as the wind touched them. But it was an episode



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