By Jane Tompkins
What makes a literary vintage? In "Sensational Designs" Jane Tompkins argues that it isn't the intrinsic benefit of a textual content, yet really the conditions of its writing. opposed to the modernist trust that artwork, on the way to be artwork, needs to be loose from propaganda, Tompkins contends that writers like Brockden Brown, Cooper, Stowe, and Warner wrote with the intention to modify the face of the social global, to not elicit aesthetic appreciation.Thus, the worth and importance of the novels, for readers in their time, relied on accurately these features that formalist feedback has taught us to deplore: stereotyped characters, sensational plots, and cliched language.
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Additional resources for Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860
Not only is Hawthorne in the 1850s not easily distinguishable from the sentimental novelists, and in most respects quite distinguishable from Melville; not only did antebellum critics have different notions about the nature and function of good literature, prize the domestic affections, and think children were spiritually endowed; more fundamentally, once one has accepted the notion that a literary text exists only within a framework of assumptions which are historically produced, it then becomes clear that the "complex" Hawthorne we study today, the Melville we know as Hawthorne's co-conspirator against the pieties of the age, the sentimental novelists we regard as having pandered to a debased popular taste, are not the novelists nineteenth-century readers read and that nineteenth-century critics wrote about.
57 Simpson traces its beginnings in the passage from a theological to a literary clergy in the early years of the nineteenth century, using the career of Joseph Stevens Buckminster, a precocious young theology professor at Harvard, to exemplify the broadening of ecclesiastical authority to include general cultural matters, and especially literature. 58 As a result of their activity, Simpson writes, "the image in the New England mind of the old theocratic polity begins to become the image of a literary polity.
Indeed, Hawthorne's work had by that time become one of the touchstones by which literary excellence could be defined, for canonical texts themselves become the bearers of the particular tradition of quality of which they are the exemplars. To put it another way, the fact that an author's reputation depends upon the context within which his or her work is read does not empty the work of value; it is the context—which eventually includes the work itself—that creates the value its readers "discover" there.
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