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American Fiction, 1911-1920


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Collection Overview

Collection Overview

William S. Charvat, distinguished professor of American literature in the Department of English at Ohio State University, was in many ways a pioneer in his approach toward the analysis and interpretation of American literary culture. Today, most scholars take for granted that the study of the book trade is a necessary prerequisite to our understanding of the influence that the business of writing had not only on literary production, but on the shape of an artists aesthetic vision. Yet Charvats Literary Publishing in America, 1790-1850 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959) and The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870 (published posthumously by Ohio State University Press, 1968) were groundbreaking works in the study of American book history. Their respective reissues by the University of Massachusetts Press in 1993 and Columbia University in 1992 attest to the enduring value of William Charvats contribution to American literary scholarship. Charvats bibliographic prescience was equally impressive. Under his guidance, the American fiction collection at The Ohio State University Libraries (OSUL) became not only the most significant single research book collection of OSUL, but one of the best research collections of its kind in the nation. Established in the late 1950s, the collection was officially named the William Charvat Collection of American Fiction upon Charvats death in 1966. Charvat recognized early on the importance of a broad-based approach to the study of American literature, and that in addition to having the works of major canonical writers always at hand, scholars needed access to those lesser lights better known for their local-color fiction, popular genre writing, and treatment of disreputable, if not repugnant, subjects within the realm of fiction. Charvat believed that a comprehensive library collection of a particular area within a national literature, if not an entire national literature itself, was an indispensable resource for the scholarly community. According to Lyle Wrights three-volume A Contribution to American Fiction, 1789-1900, it was at Charvats urging that the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at OSUL concentrated its collection efforts on amassing American fiction. Wrights work became the bibliographic checklist for OSULs collection efforts as well as the basis for Research Publications (now Primary Source Microfilm, an imprint of the Gale Group) microfilming project, American Fiction, 1789-1900. The criteria for selection of American fiction at OSUL, as derived from Wright, have remained constant for over four decades--namely, first American printings of adult fiction by United States authors. That same set of criteria has been applied to the expansion of the William Charvat Collection into the twentieth century.

Currently, OSUL houses the nations most significant American fiction holding of pre-1901 titles that fit Wrights collection criteria, if not the most significant holding of all twentieth-century American fiction, particularly from the first half century. The development of twentieth-century holdings at OSUL was a natural expansion from the Lyle Wright bibliographies of earlier American fiction. Great progress was made by OSUL in the 1980s. With the benefit of external funds from the Department of Educations Title II-C Strengthening Research Libraries grant, 1983-1985, OSUL developed a project for the acquisition and cataloging of titles of American fiction from the years 1901 to 1925, in order to provide national access. From 1987 to 1994, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) provided further cataloging support through the development of an online database and a successor print volume to Wrights earlier work published as American Fiction, 1901-1925: A Bibliography (Cambridge University Press, 1997). Through funding, NEH has provided similar support for cataloging OSULs current focus, the collection of all adult American fiction titles from 1926 to 1950.

The portion of the collection from 1911 to 1920 is now available through Primary Source Microfilm. This is a direct result of OSUL collecting American fiction titles published between 1901 and 1925 for over twenty years. Although present OSUL American fiction collecting focuses on titles from 1926 to 1950, substantial additions to the collection of 1901 to 1925 imprints and even earlier fiction continue to be made. OSUL acquired American fiction titles published between 1911 and 1925 through numerous channels. Fortunately, OSULs general collections were already rich in such materials, and many titles meeting specific criteria and conditions were transferred from the circulating collection to the Charvat Collection. There, they were recataloged according to rare book cataloging standards and housed in the atmospherically controlled environment of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. OSUL was also able to glean many appropriate titles from a large collection of titles purchased en masse from the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1965. Funding from the aforementioned Title II-C grant provided the impetus for OSUL to establish a solid, national network of specialized rare book dealers who have unfailingly supported OSULs collecting efforts over the years. OSUL administration itself, recognizing the national significance of the Charvat Collection, has been steadfast and generous in its support. As the Charvat Collection has garnered more attention over the years, donations of titles of American fiction have increased commensurately.

In many ways, the story of the William Charvat Collection has come full circle. Professor William Charvat, the proleptic literary historian who envisioned the type of literary collection that would most benefit his work, set into place the intellectual design for the ideal collection. Today, that collection has grown to be one of the most distinguished in the world. After decades of attentive organization, and with the application of current technology, the Charvat Collection is now available to the American public at large. William Charvat would be proud of the realization of his vision and, in particular, of the current project that has expanded the scholarly communitys access to the collection that so honorably bears his name.

Geoffrey D. Smith, Professor and Head
Rare Books and Manuscript Library and
Curator, William S. Charvat Collection of American Fiction
The Ohio State University Libraries

 

Introduction to the Collection: From Women to War, A Decade of Change in American Fiction, 1911-1920

All literature is transitional, and although it is common to parse literary periods by art forms that have expired or been inspired with a given timespan, it is difficult not to treat the decade of 1911 to 1920 as the end of high realism in American fiction. Mark Twain died in 1910, Henry James in 1916, and William Dean Howells in 1920. These canonical realists had dominated and influenced American fiction for nearly half a century, and their deaths neatly bookended this unusual literary decade. Each was adept at a unique mode of literary realism: Twain, the darkly humorous and American dialectician; James, the master of literary style and social subtlety; and Howells, the ironist behind the smiling face of daily life. Each would have his respective successor in Sherwood Anderson, Edith Wharton, and Sinclair Lewis. And yet, this decade marked far more than the death of three prominent writers. Disrupted by the catastrophic effects of World War I, the 1910s signified the end of a period of national optimism. By 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald had introduced a literary modernism that subverted the certainties and conventions of an earlier generation. This mirrored the post-Civil War change from the romanticism of the American Renaissance to the new realism, produced by the local-color artists who succeeded Melville, Poe, Hawthorne, and Whitman.

Aesthetic change is evolutionary as well as revolutionary in nature, and the great American naturalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries--Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London--also foreshadowed the periods profound changes through the heightened use of a psychological impressionism that literary modernism would adopt for its own. Nor did the naturalists ignore the link to their romantic forebears, as demonstrated by Norriss essays on the romance behind realist fiction and Londons published ruminations on the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. Following the publication of Charles Darwins Evolution of Species and Aldous Huxleys Mans Place in Nature, the omnipresent idea of evolution as a trope for all notions of cultural development--including a national literature--equally infected their realist counterparts, whose own experiments sought to push the limits of literary realism. For Twain, this manifested itself as an ever dimmer view of human nature; for James, it flowered into a baroque literary introspection, and for Howells, it emerged as a growing political passion. This evolution of style, theme, and genre is exactly why these writers emerge as major influences on the period just prior to the onset of literary modernism in America.

Evolution in literary style or insight was not the only change afoot within the world of American fiction during this period. A new generation of popular writers had a profound influence on the events of this decade; the study of their work tells us far more about the social, economic, political, and religious life of that era than the more refined lucubrations of their highbrow colleagues. During this period, there is a distinct change in national sentiment from ebullience to melancholy. A close examination of the fiction of this pivotal decade thus makes it particularly clear that while the United States of 1911 was still a decidedly nineteenth-century culture in terms of national attitudes and aspirations, by 1920, the post-World War I nation was experiencing a painful birth into a twentieth-century cultural reality.

Prior to the advent of the European War, as Americans then called it, the United States was a buoyant and optimistic nation. Deep in the heart of the Progressive Era, many Americans had benefited from the expansion in international trade and the flurry of domestic reforms. Notwithstanding the naiveté of treating this as an idyllic period, in retrospect, the 1910s was an era of hope and promise to many Americans, compared to the next three decades, during which the United States lived under the clouds of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. This decade was not only a prosperous one, but an inventive one as well: the automobile had gained popularity; the Wright brothers primitive flying machine had quickly become a viable form of transportation; homes were electrified; and motion picture houses were flourishing. National political and economic interests had expanded dramatically in Central and South America, the Pacific, and the Far East. The names Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie had become synonymous with American success, and people from many nations were migrating to the United States in search of fortune and freedom. Moreover, reformers and trust-busters of the early twentieth century had demonstrated that, despite the conspicuous wealth of the new millionaire class, the United States was still a democracy, and American citizens, through their government representatives, could curtail abuse by this new class of oligarchs of the nations public and economic institutions. Workers rights, womens rights, and childrens rights were dominant issues during the Progressive Era, and although minority rights had yet to emerge as a national concern, the migration of African-Americans to the industrial north and the influx of new immigrants from eastern, central, and southern Europe and Asia guaranteed that the face of the United States, particularly in urban areas, was destined to change.

Although the United States was not to become militarily engaged until 1917, from its inception, the European War had fueled debate within the country, dimming the potential for positive change throughout the decade. In 1915, a German submarine sank the Lusitania, which had a number of Americans aboard. In early 1917, the United States learned of the Zimmermann Telegram, in which Germany sought an alliance with Mexico in case the United States joined the war on the side of its British ally. As debate over whether the United States should participate in the war dragged on, young and idealistic American boys had already joined foreign services.

Ultimately, the United States did join the war, and many were dismayed by the commandeering of Americas scientists, inventors, and dreamers for the furtherance of death and destruction in Europe. World War I quickly emerged as the first modern war: poisonous chemical gases snaked through trenches; internal engines powered the trucks that carried the tools of war; and tanks and airplanes evolved into the dominant war machines of the twentieth century. It became increasingly apparent to a more educated populace that the war was being fought for private interests, as well as making the world "safe for democracy": while common soldiers were being treated as cannon fodder, munitions manufacturers were making extraordinary profits. Yet even in the midst of all this advanced technology, the archaism of trench warfare and hand-to-hand combat dominated the battlefield. In some cases, troops advanced only a few yards after months of battle, heightening the profound malaise felt by Americans and Europeans alike as casualties steadily mounted. The psychological brutalization of the many soldiers, whose minds were destroyed while their bodies remained intact, was equally devastating. Shell shock became a certified diagnosis and a national and familial burden.

By the end of the wear, many writers had forthrightly addressed the feelings of disillusionment, alienation, and resentment of a world that had betrayed a commitment to the ethical advancement of humanity. Looking across the decade, one can trace the rise of a progressive spirit gone awry, a spirit that begins with certainty and hope and concludes in ambiguity and loss. Although it is nearly impossible to write of this decade without attending to the overarching shadow of World War I, no scholar can ignore the historical, cultural, and social importance of the many issues that swept the period before, during, and after the war--from womens suffrage and immigration to racial conflict and the struggles of labor. The fabric of the decades daily life is recorded within the colorful language and the varied traditions and customs captured by its authors.

The roster of prominent writers from 1911 to 1920 includes Sherwood Anderson, Mary Austin, Willia Cather, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, ad Upton Sinclair, yet the issues of everyday life addressed from a popular point of view are found in the work of lesser-known writers. Indeed, popular writing on contemporary issues frequently serves scholars well in their analysis of the historical, political, and social interpretation of a period because the narrative, less filtered by an aesthetic mold that modulates expression, is linked in a far more visceral sense to everyday concerns. Although fiction of this nature may at times appear jejune, sentimental, or even repugnant, it nonetheless accurately records popular sentiment on contemporary matters.

Contemporary novels about World War I were numerous and differed widely in their points of view. Some titles date from as early as 1913, such as The Impeachment of President Israels, in which Frank Barkely Copley condemns a fictionalized American president for failing to make war. Three years later, Porter Emerson Browne penned his pacifist Peace--At Any Price (1916), while an assortment of works fell between these two extremes, from the boldly confident He Conquered the Kaiser (1915) by H.A. Mason to J.W. Mullers cautionary The Invasion of America: A Fact Story Based on the Inexorable Mathematics of War (1916). World War I narratives cover a wide range of characters and themes. In Belinda of the Red Cross (1917), Edward Stratemeyer offers a lighthearted tale of a woman at war, while in Khaki: How Tredick Got into the War (1918), Freeman Tilden concocts one of many tales of the wars effect on the homefront in New England. Finally, in the warmongering The Unpardonable Sin (1918), Rupert Hughes generates one of the more outrageous novels of pure propaganda, in which, among other things, the rape of American women in Belgium by German soldiers is depicted within the limits of contemporary taste.

While World War I and the troubles afflicting Europe were much on the minds of Americans, the most prominent social domestic issue was clearly that of womens rights, in particular, the right to vote, which was obtained on August 24, 1920, when Tennessee became the critical thirty-sixth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Men and women both authored novels favoring and opposing womens suffrage. In the anti-suffragist The Bauble (1911), author Richard Barrys protagonist callously abandons her maternal responsibilities to become a suffragette only to "redeem" herself in the novels denouement by returning to the familial fold. On the other hand, The Opening Door: A Story of the Womans Movement (1913), by Justin Miles Forman, largely favors the womens suffrage movement. Among women writers, this difference of opinion is equally evident: Nalbro Bartleys heroine in A Womans Woman (1919) is a young, anti-domestic career woman who presumably comes to her senses after she surrenders all for her family; in contrast, Maria Thompson Davies heroine in the short story "The Elected Mother: A Story of Womans Equal Rights" (1912) is an older wife and mother of a large family who becomes an ardent reformer and defender of womens rights. Even outside the narrow issue of suffrage, the dynamic clash between proactive and reactive forces over the "New Woman" provided American authors with other social battles to render on the canvas of fiction. Mary Sthanbery Wattss The Rise of Jennie Cushing (1914) suggests itself as a female Horatio Alger-like tale of a character overcoming adversity--in this case, her upbringing in the slums of New York. Meanwhile, Caroline Lockharts The Lady Doc (1912) depicts the obstacles that prevent the heroine from utilizing her hard-won medical skills in a professional capacity on the Idaho frontier. The anonymous Empty House (1917) is the shocking tale of a wife who consciously decides to forego having children, while birth control and divorce are the main themes of Reginald Wright Kauffmans Running Sands (1913). In The Precipice: A Novel (1914), Elia W. Peattie offers a fictionalized intellectual overview of the early twentieth-century feminist movement. The many unburnished narratives of family and motherhood, love and loss, businesswomen and working women, saints and sinners--in short, the gamut of humanity--are equally interesting.

The crystallization of white supremacist thought, American imperialistic ventures overseas, and fear of the effects of immigration on the national character inspired a fiery, often nativistic, nationalism that counterbalanced the growing strain of American progressivism. The Ku Klux Klan was easily the most visible emblem of this trend in its vigorous persecution of African-Americans, Catholics and other "undesirable" ethnic groups (mainly southern Europeans and Jews) that had been emigrating to the United States in record numbers. Although the KKK constitute but a small percentage of the American populace, its very existence bespoke a broad national sentiment that one finds captured in works such as Thomas Dixon" The Fall of a Nation: A Sequel to The Birth of a Nation (1916). Simultaneously combating this nativist ethos were novels of the hardships and triumphs of African-American life during this difficult period, including Octavus Roy Cohens Polished Ebony (1919), Effie Grahams Aunt Lizas Praisin Gate (1916), and Paul Kesters His Own Country (1917). Even Negro parodies (to use the parlance of the period) by E.K. Means and others were often not intentionally mean-spirited and underscored the importance of the early Harlem Renaissance in recording authentic African-American voices. While there is little doubt that fiction by white authors about African-Americans hardly holds up as a sensitive and informed record of the African-American experience, the attempt to take on the subject did signal a shift in attitude about how the lived experience of minorities should be handled.

The tensions that permeated American race relations similarly affected the newborn connection between the changing faces of American immigrants and their adoptive country. As the United States assumed the role of industrial leader in steel production, automobile manufacturing, and other heavy industries, it attracted more foreign workers who settled in urban, industrial areas. The 1910s thus emerged as one of the richest eras in immigrant fiction, which described the struggle of many new Americans to maintain their own manners and customs even as they assimilated into traditional Anglo-American culture. As with any story of cultural encounter, the immigrant fiction of the decade was suffused with conflict, acceptance, and the silent merger and insuperable barrier between the old ways and the new. These elements are found in Rekindled Fires (1918), Joseph Anthonys story of Bohemians in New Jersey; Not of her Race (1911), Nancy K. Fosters tale of Anglos and Chicanos in California; Eves Other Children (1912), Lucille Baldwin Van Slykes chronicle of Syrians in Brooklyn; The Mask (1919), John Cournos look at Russian Jews in Philadelphia; and The Interlopers: A Novel (1917), Griffing Bancrofts drama of the Japanese in California.

As immigrants came to dominate the American industrial working class, novels of conflict between capital and labor emerged with renewed vigor. During the early twentieth century, the United States became a battleground of labor issues: as union drives, strikes, boycotts, protests, and riots grew in intensity, American authors took note. According to her preface, Mabel A. Farnums The Cry of the Street: A Novel (1913) "deals with the labor question in the mill towns of Massachusetts, with socialism and particularly with the great strike at Lawrence which took place in January 1912." Fannie Hursts Every Soul Hath Its Song (1916) focuses on immigrant shop girls in New York City. M.H. Hedgess Iron City (1919) describes the conflict between management and labor in a Midwestern mill town. Although most of the novels tended to be prolabor, one of the more prominent exceptions was penned by Zane Grey. As an advocate of rugged individualism and the code of the West, Grey published the decidedly antilabor Desert Gold: A Romance of the Border (1913).

Often the cause of labor was promoted by novelists chronicling the dismal living conditions of workers. Vivid descriptions of slums, child labor abuses, and the general mistreatment of workers, found in such novels as Henry Oyens Joey the Dreamer (1911), were used as weapons in the fight for better social conditions and the reduction of the disparity between rich and poor. Inevitably, the cause of labor was linked to political radicalism and calls for socialist-style reforms. In George Cram Cooks The Chasm: A Novel (1911), this vision is rendered through the fictional formula of a cross-class alliance between a millionaires daughter and a Russian communist gardener. Together, they become proponents of socialism in the United States. In his foreword to The Air Trust (1915), author George Allan England explains how his work attempts "to carry the monopolistic principle to its logical conclusion," with the rather obvious result of capitalist villains and socialist heroes.

International events crowded in upon the American consciousness. Once the red flag of Communism was raised over the dead bodies of the Russian Imperial family, following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the sympathy for socialism found in the first half of the decade was undercut. This antipathy to socialist causes gained significant momentum following the "Red Scare" of 1919, which propagandized the connection of southern European and Slavic immigrants to socialist and anarchists groups. The narrative topics of the immigrant experience, labor causes, and political radicalism coalesced into antisocialist (or more commonly, anti-Bolshevik) novels, such as George Kobbe Turners Red Friday (1919), in which socialists turn enemy and threaten the nations health with their Bolshevik plottings, or Mary Robert Rineharts A Poor Wise Man (1920), in which a communist uprising is ultimately put down by American veterans.

The American publishing industry, already strong in the nineteenth century, had grown exponentially during the twentieth century. American Fiction, 1911-1920 provides a wealth of material for the cultural study of the American engagement in and reaction to the significant national and world events of the period. Womens suffrage, World War I, nativist and anti-socialist agitation, continued immigration, labor conflict, and racial prejudice are but a few of the many areas touched upon in this rich collection. The continuing tension between agrarianism and urbanization is chronicled in the many farm novels depicting the plight of failed farmers or the conflict between farmers and developers. And the tradition of regional or "local-color" fiction continued in full force with such narratives as Alice Rices stories about Louisville, Kentucky, Meredith Nicholsons A Hoosier Chronicle (1912), Wilbur Daniel Steeles Lands End and Other Stories 91918) about New England, and many more.

For students and scholars of popular culture, American Fiction 1911-1920 also documents the gentrification of genre fiction, from the pulp mills of dime novels and penny dreadfuls to the main lists of respectable publishing houses. Among mystery writers during this period, one finds Earl Derr Biggers, Melville Davisson Post, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Carolyn Wells, and Arthur B. Reeve (creator of Craig Kennedy, scientific detective). Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Alan England, and Victor Rousseau surface as American pioneers in the field of science fiction. Indeed, the 1910s stands as one of the greatest decades for Western fiction--a unique American creation--as penned by such renowned writers as Rex Beach, B.M. Bower (the judiciously selected pseudonym of Bertha Buzzy Sinclair), Max Brand, James Oliver Curwood, Zane Gray, James B. Hendryx, and Clarence Edward Milford. This period also saw the emergence of the Hollywood novel, while traditional stories of various professionals--doctors, lawyers, businessmen--remained popular. Meanwhile, on the darker side, violent crime, prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism, and child abuse continued to feed the popular imagination and the writings of American authors during this period. The broad record of American writing thus provides a mixed record to the scholar seeking an overview of American fiction during this period: an uplifting and, yet, just as commonly disheartening portrait of the United States, rife with the slang and jargon, trends and styles, and hopes and ambitions of the complex and diverse people passing from an era of political progressivism into an era that concluded with a war destined to reshape the literary imagination and political reality of the next several decades to come.

Geoffrey D. Smith, Professor and Head
Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and
Curator, William S. Charvat Collection of American Fiction
The Ohio State University Libraries

 

Editorial Note

The intention of this note is to describe the more technical aspects of the microform publication of this research collection.

Range of Material

American Fiction, 1911-1920 comprises 2,962 first editions of adult American fiction published from 1911 to 1920. This collection comprises roughly three-quarters of all American adult fiction published within the United States during this decade.

Organization of Material

Originally filmed by the Ohio State University Libraries under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the contents of the collection are sorted alphabetically by author name and then by title of work. In this respect, the contents of American Fiction, 1911-1920 follows in the footsteps of the bibliographical sort set by Lyle Wrights American Fiction, 1774-1900, 3 vols. (The Huntington Library, 1969, 1966) and similarly following in Primary Source Microfilm' company publication, American Fiction, 1789-1910.

Cataloging of Material

The cataloging of the titles contained within this collection may be found in print form within the pages of Geoffrey Smiths American Fiction, 1901-1925: A Bibliography (Cambridge University Press, 1997), a bibliographic continuation of Lyle Wrights compendium. The records for this collection guide were extracted by Ohio State University Libraries and reviewed and revised accordingly. MARC record sets for this collection may be acquired directly from OCLC.