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


Page 52

and Smollett by a chaste and courtly love. Familiar life, tending to sordidness and “low” settings, had been succeeded by remote life, generally idealized; historical detail had been brought in to instruct readers who were being entertained, not without some sense of guilt in their entertainment. Cooper, like Scott, was more realistic than the Gothic romancers, more human than Godwin or Brown. The two most common charges against the older fiction, that it pleased wickedly and that it taught nothing, had broken down before the discovery, except in illiberal sects, that the novel is fitted for both honest use and pleasure.
  In Europe, at Cooper’s death, a new vogue of realism had set in, but America still had little but romance. The presence of the frontier as a contemporary fact as well as a matter of fiction accounts for this condition quite as much as does the absence at the time of any strong realistic bent among American writers. With that vast, mysterious hinterland free to any one who might come to take it, novelists, like farmers, were less prompt in America than in Europe to settle down to the intensive cultivation of known fields. There is a closer analogy, indeed, between the geographic and the imaginative frontier of the United States than has generally been realized. As the first advanced, thin, straggling, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, widening from Canada to Mexico, and reaching out in ships, the other followed, also thin and straggling but with an incessant purpose to find out new territories which the imagination could play over and claim for its own. “Until now,” wrote Cooper in 1828, “the Americans have been tracing the outline of their great national



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