A WRITER'S AMERICA: Landscape in Literature by Alfred Kazin

A WRITER'S AMERICA: Landscape in Literature

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KIRKUS REVIEW

For many people, America is its landscape: rocky coasts, flaming deserts, snow-topped mountains. Here, Kazin explores the relationship between this majestic environment and the writers it has inspired, drawing on travel diaries, novels, journals, ethnographic studies, histories, and his own impressive ability to forge insightful scholarly interconnections. Most writers, Kazin indicates, don't see the landscape as it is in itself--river or peak transforms instantly into a metaphor or symbol for the writer's pet concern. Thomas Jefferson rhapsodized over the pristine beauty and innocence of this newly minted land; Melville, by contrast, saw nature as gnarled, threatening, Old Testamental. Ideas about the American landscape began to flourish soon after the Revolution, when books like de Crevecoeur's Letters From an American Farmer depicted our nation as the Biblical ""peaceable kingdom."" The Romantic Francis Parkman saw the wilderness as primordial, unformed; Thoreau, on the other hand, saw nature as a charming companion to human enterprise. For Poe, the landscape was a fevered fantasy, a gossamer ""atmosphere,"" whereas Whitman found its power in the might of cities. Kazin shows how ideas of landscape changed as the nation pushed west into the plains and forward into the modern era. In one fine section, Kazin analyzes the mythology of cities: Boston as Jerusalem, then Athens; New York as world capitol; D.C. shimmering white with ""a touch of the transcendent."" He winds up in California, with Didion and Jeffers uncovering the manias of that benighted coast. A rich, intelligent survey, enhanced by 102 glorious illustrations (16 in full color).

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1988
Publisher: Knopf