1st Edition

Imagining America

By Peter Conrad Copyright 1980
    330 Pages
    by Routledge

    In his book Imagining America (originally published in 1980), Peter Conrad shows how the English literary imagination over the course of a century devised for itself a contradictory series of ideal or alarming Americas which it then sets out to actualize. For Mrs Trollope, Americans are unkempt brutes, throwbacks to savagery; for H. G. Wells, they are a future race of cerebral technocrats. Oscar Wilde and Rupert Brooke want to redeem them by corrupting them with the insidious gospel of art; D. H. Lawrence wants to rescue them by fomenting revolution in their stale, sterile society. For W. H. Auden, Americans are an existential people, sad citizens of a deracinated modern world, suffering from anxiety; for Chrsitopher Isherwood, they are bland, sun-tanned Oriental angels. But there is a logic to the succession of these images, which Peter Conrads’s narrative follows. The Victorians are disturbed by America because it is not yet a society and lacks the upholstery of manners. Their modern successors, however, praise it for this very disability and find there a psychological, mystical or even psychedelic freedom denied to them by the Europe they have left behind.

    Imagining America is stimulating both as cultural history and literary criticism. Superbly written, it presents an argumentative tour de force in a style that is witty and diverting.

    1. Imagining America: Versions of Niagara  2. Institutional America: Frances Trollope, Anthony Trollope, and Charles Dickens  3. Aesthetic America: Oscar Wilde and Rupert Brooke  4. Epic (and Chivalric) America: Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson  5. Futuristic America: H. G. Wells  6. Primitive America: D. H. Lawrence in New Mexico  7. Theological America: W. H. Auden in New York  8. Psychedelic America: Aldous Huxley in California  9. Mystical America: Christopher Isherwood in California 


    Peter Conrad is an Australian-born academic specialising in English literature. He has been a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford (1970–3), was Hodder Fellow at Princeton University (1975–6) and has lectured at several American universities.