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Chesnutt and Realism, Chesnutt and Realism, 0817315209, 0-8173-1520-9, 978-0-8173-1520-7, 9780817315207, , , Chesnutt and Realism, 0817382283, 0-8173-8228-3, 978-0-8173-8228-5, 9780817382285,

Chesnutt and Realism
A Study of the Novels
Ryan Simmons

Trade Cloth
2006. 208 pp.
Price:  $39.95 s
E Book
2009. 208 pp.
Price:  $39.95 d

An important examination of Charles Chesnutt as a practitioner of realism.
With the release of previously unpublished novels and a recent proliferation of critical studies on his life and work, Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932) has emerged as a major American writer of his time—the age of Howells, Twain, and Wharton. In Chesnutt and Realism, Ryan Simmons breaks new ground by theorizing how understandings of literary realism have shaped, and can continue to shape, the reception of Chesnutt’s work.
Although Chesnutt is typically acknowledged as the most prominent African American writer of the realist period, little attention has been paid to the central question of this study: what does it mean to call Chesnutt a realist? A writer whose career was circumscribed by the dismal racial politics of his era, Chesnutt refused to conform to literary conventions for depicting race. Nor did he use his imaginative skills to evade the realities he and other African Americans faced. Rather, he experimented with ways of portraying reality that could elicit an appropriate, proportionate response to it, as Simmons demonstrates in extended readings of each of Chestnutt’s novels, including important unpublished works that have been overlooked by previous critics.
Chesnutt and Realism also addresses a curiously neglected subject in American literary studies—the relationship between American literary realism and race. By taking Chesnutt seriously as a contributor to realism, this book articulates the strategies by which one African American intellectual helped to define the discourses that influenced his fate.

Ryan Simmons is Assistant Professor of English at Utah Valley State College.

"Readers will doubtless view the liberation of Chesnutt from a narrow definition of literary realism as this book's most obvious contribution to our understanding of this major American writer. Simmons's close readings of the novels repeatedly reveal the complexity of their characterizations and themes. This study will be appreciated by those interested not only in Chesnutt's personality and art but also in race relations in the U.S. from the 1870s through the 1920s, the emergence of a sophisticated African-American literary tradition at the beginning of the 20th century, and the historical relationship between the prose romance and novel genres in American literature."—Joseph R. McElrath, editor of Charles W. Chesnutt: Essays and Speeches

"In looking at the relationship between American realism and the work of Charles Chesnutt, Simmons (Utah Valley State College) examines the geography of Chesnutt's life as a metaphor for his personally experienced southern and northern racism and racism attached to a person of mixed race. The author considers Chesnutt's expansiveness and his incorporation of many voices in his novels, and he concludes that some of Chesnutt's novels--e.g., The Marrow of Tradition--are too manipulative to be thoroughly realistic. He argues that Colonel's Dream exists between the position of realism and sentimental romance. Simmons examines all of Chesnutt's novels, but this book's particular value is its analysis of Chesnutt's less-known novels, including two not published until late in the 20th century: Mandy Oxendine (CH, Jun'98, 35-5499) and Paul Marchand, F.M.C. (CH, Dec'98, 36-2026). Simmons includes analyses of characters (black, white, and mixed race) and discussion of the critical response to Chesnutt's novels. He concludes that Chesnutt's point was that race is socially constructed and that, in the world Chesnutt's characters inhabit, race is significant and blackness is a fact of identity. This complex study is not for those new to Chesnutt. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."

2007 Sylvia Lyons Render Award, sponsored by American Literature Association

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