The number and popularity of novels that have overtly reconfigured aspects of classic American texts suggests a curious trend for both readers and writers, an impulse to retell and reread books that have come to define American culture. This book argues that by revising canonical American literature, contemporary American writers are (re)writing an American myth of origins, creating one that corresponds to the contemporary writer’s understanding of self and society. Informed by cognitive psychology, evolutionary literary criticism, and poststructuralism, Entzminger reads texts by canonical authors Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Alcott, Twain, Chopin, and Faulkner, and by the contemporary writers that respond to them. In highlighting the construction and cognitive function of narrative in their own and in their antecedent texts, contemporary writers highlight the fact that such use of narrative is universal and essential to human beings. This book suggests that by revising the classic texts that compose our cultural narrative, contemporary writers mirror the way human individuals consistently revisit and refigure the past through language, via self-narration, in order to manage and understand experience.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Origin and Evolution of American Stories 1. Decoding the Cryptic Past: Richard Powers’s and Louis Bayard’s Reconfigurations of Poe’s Short Stories 2. ‘A’ is for America: Revisions of The Scarlet Letter 3. A Draft of a Draft: Sena Jeter Naslund’s Reconfiguration of Moby-Dick 4. Revising Alcott, Revising America: Reconfigurations of Little Women 5. The "Quintessentially American Book": Reconfigurations of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 6. Life After Awakening: Anne Tyler’s Revision of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening 7. Plundered Narrative: Contemporary Rewritings of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! Conclusion: The Future of Origins Appendix A: Interview with Louis Bayard Appendix B: Interview with Sena Jeter Naslund Bibliography Index
Betina Entzminger is Associate Professor of English at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, US.