This is a self proclaimed literary guide by Henry A Beers that in many respects falls short of the basic qualities and aspects such volume must contain. But shortcomings apart, for a reader this volume has dealt with many significant historic events that played great role in shaping the culture and body of literature as we know today. The entire study has been written in several long paragraphs without much attention to the usability of the book as a guide or manual for the students of literature. Though in some parts it is accurate and extremely well written, too many shortcomings can be called to mind as well. As a study guide, the book Initial Studies in American Letters by Henry A Beers can be more organized in chapters along with anecdotes of major historical as well as literary events in the country. In any case, the book is worth reading for people who harbor a grave interest in knowing how the socio political events and forces shaped the literary cannon of the country in all these years.
The focus on the historical evolution
American history from the early colonial era to the last century went through too many upheavals and major twists and turns. Many of these era-changing turns had been significant for the entire American population and also the world order as well. Naturally, while considering the literary evolution in all these years one hardly has any other option but to place this body of history in the central place and then decipher the literary turns and changes in relation to this. The quintessential traits of a body of literature are either shaped by the collective mass leaning or by major prodigy who notwithstanding the social and political stagnation or upheaval can exert their influence on the literature of the era and beyond. This book has almost been silent on account of exploring the influence f these literary prodigies and more or less only concentrated on the historical events and socio political atmosphere at various times that facilitated new literary expression.
Isn’t it a biased historical approach?
While the author inadvertently tries to follow the historical path from the colonial era to the present, his learned biasness become apparent when he misses to refer to the American aborigines and gradual eloping of their literary and linguistic tradition in the face of so called civic European domination across all facets of life, livelihood and culture. Majority of the letters on this book have their principal preoccupation on the practical questions concerning power, governance and national pride. But hardly there has been a voice that can vehemently oppose the self-important European notion f republic and offer a more intriguing view of the colonial oppression that altogether made the people of the land to assimilate with their European masters or get killed. This biased and one sided approach to literary evolution is particularly apparent when the author offers a selection of correspondence among important political and military dignitaries.
The paradise explored
For many first generation settlers the American land was synonymous to paradise with a bounty of nature unfolding its beauty and riches to the outsiders. The pristine beauty of the wild prairie and blue water lakes to the dizzying mountains in the North, the vast country was a treasure of nature that European settlers were exploring for the first time. For the next few centuries this paradise will continue to be transformed into industrial powerhouse. But, this volume only brought together letters that can serve the nostalgic purpose of calling that lost paradise to mind. So, the letters collected in this book represents a reality far from total and inclusive in character.
A loose frame of passing history
At best the present volume delivers a loose frame of passing historical events and transformation of life through a collection of letters from different era and personalities. The history of the country just moves past the frame in quick succession without offering us enough glimpse to decipher the chronological collection and in that sense the book terribly lacks completeness so desirable from such a collection. Although the title of the book gives us a premonition of a guide book or manual that can introduce us to the milestones of historical events and corresponding literary influence, the loose sections and absence of historical anecdotes with the letters, falls short of fulfilling the expectation created by it.
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