Roderick Mengham Special Commissioned Essay on the American Novel of Manners Introduction

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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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Special Commissioned Essay on the American Novel of Manners Roderick Mengham

This special topic entry, written by Roderick Mengham, presents an overview and analysis of American Novel of Manners.

The following chronology provides an overview of the key social, political, and cultural events in America during which the novel of manners emerged.

1861-1865: The American Civil War, or War between the States, as it is more commonly known in the South, raises the question of American political and economic identity, and the victory of the Union solidifies the power of the new industrialized Northeast, where the supremacy of the “Robber Barons” emerges through steel mills, railroads and factories. New money acquired through these ventures rises to challenge the social supremacy of the Old Money in Boston and New York.

1873: Financial panic hits the Stock Market in late September.

Ellen Glasgow is born in Virginia.

1880: The population in New York reaches 1.2 million.

Henry James publishes Washington Square.

Andrew Carnegie develops the first large furnace for making steel, the source of his wealth.

New York streets are first lit with electricity.

1881: James publishes Portrait of a Lady.

Charles Darwin dies. His theory of evolution was read by Ellen Glasgow, who used it to underscore her novels of social change.

1883: Ivan Turgenev, the Russian writer who was read by Edith Wharton, James and many others, dies.

The new Metropolitan Opera House opens in New York.

The Brooklyn Bridge is completed and opened to traffic.

The first skyscraper, ten stories tall, is finished in Chicago.

The luxurious train the Orient Express makes its first run from Paris to Istanbul.

1884: Mark Twain publishes Huckleberry Finn.

1885: Edith Newbold Jones marries Teddy Wharton in New York City.

Sinclair Lewis is born in Sauk Center, Minnesota.

The sport of golf is introduced to the United States.

1886: James publishes The Bostonians.

Karl Marx's classic attack on industrial capitalism, Das Kapital, is published in English.

John Singer Sargent's painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” is completed.

The Statue of Liberty is dedicated in New York.

1888: Raymond Chandler is born in New York.

The very first beauty pageant is held in Spa, Belgium.

1889: The first May Day, celebrating workers of the world, is held in Paris, causing concern among Industrial Capitalists.

1890: The first motion picture shows open in New York, providing the medium in which novelists like Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald will have their work adapted.

The Daughters of the American Revolution is established in Washington, D.C. In response to rising numbers of immigrants, such groups attempt to define themselves as an American aristocracy or High Society.

1891: Thomas Hardy, the English novelist whom Glasgow met and admired, publishes Tess of the Durbervilles.

Herman Melville, a cousin of Edith Wharton's, and author of Moby Dick, dies.

1892: The Homestead Strike pits railroad workers against Henry Clay Frick and Pennsylvania Railroad. Frick brings in military to break the strike, resulting in the deaths of many strikers. Frick's success establishes the power of the Industrialists to join with the federal government to overpower workers.

The American poet Walt Whitman, admired by Wharton, dies. She took the title of her autobiography, A Backward Glance, from his work.

A major strike by iron and steel workers occurs in the United States.

1893: Henry Ford builds the first automobile, creating the symbol of speed and mobility that will change the manners of America.

J. P. Marquand is born in Wilmington, Delaware.

1894: Thomas Edison opens the Kinetoscope Parlor in New York, while in Paris the cinematograph is invented by Louis Lumiere, both leading to wider public access to motion pictures, with the first public film being shown the next year in Paris.

1896: Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was among the first best selling works of fiction in America, dies.

The Nobel Prize in Literature is established.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is...

(The entire section is 1,762 words.)