LOVE AND DEATH IN THE AMERICAN NOVEL by Leslie Fiedler
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LOVE AND DEATH IN THE AMERICAN NOVEL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In a collection of essays published in 1955 under the title An End to Innocence, Leslie Fiedler introduced a complex theme which he examines here in full scale: that the American novel differs most radically from its European ancestor and counterpart in the failure of our major novelists to deal with adult heterosexuality and their consequent obsession with death, incest and innocent homosexuality. His approach is Freudian- Jungian and Marxist to the extent that he has made use of the theory that class structure deeply influences, if it does not determine, the obsessive concerns of a literature. He begins with an examination of the concept of courtly love --- the introduction of the worship of women in a patriarchal society- and he traces the sources of the 18th century convention of sentimental love best exemplified in Richardson's novel Clarissa. In dealing with the American novel from 1789 to 1959 -- from Charles Brockden Brown to Faulkner-Fiedler demonstrates, through a method which is psychological and sociological, that American fiction has been a literature of sexual suppression -- ""our literature is a gothic fiction, nonrealistic and negative, sadist and melodramatic, a literature of darkness and the grotesque in a land of light and affirmation"". At length he attempts to show how Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter, Melville in Moby Dick and Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn came to terms with the Faustian theme they could not evade and created a literature ""of the first excellence"". Obviously there is much in this book that will be disputed if the entire theme is not attacked. But whether he is discussing writers as diverse as Dreiser, Truman Capote or Herman Wouk, Fiedler brilliantly and convincingly illustrates the fact that ""American authors have shyed away from permitting in their fiction the presence of any full-fledged mature women, giving us instead monsters of virtue or bitchery, symbols of the rejection or fear of sexuality.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1960
ISBN: 1564781631
Publisher: Criterion