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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

CRAYON RIDES AGAIN Benjamin Lease, Anglo-American Encounters: England and the Rise of American Literature (Cambridge University Press) £22.50

'Who reads an American book?' asked the Reverend Sydney Smith in the Edinburgh Review in 1820; he had already declared in 1818 that the Americans had no native literature. But succeeding decades saw the effort of American writers, drawing upon the American language, landscape, and people, to establish such a literature, an effort which culminated in the publication, between 1850 and 1855, of The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Walden and Leaves of Grass. Lease claims that a study of Anglo-American attitudes and encounters reveals much about the rise of American literature up to 1855, and he takes ten American writers, from Washington Irving to Walt Whitman, and explores, through an entertaining mixture of anecdote, critical comment, and apt quotation, their relationships, in literature and life, with England.

Two major themes emerge from the book: the growth of American resistance to the styles and subjects of English literature, and the varying English reception of American works. For example, the persona of many of Washington Irving's sketches, Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., who first visits England, and later takes a tour of the prairies, is 'adrift between two worlds', one English, one American, while Fenimore Cooper's novels are, Lease judges, 'seriously flawed by his . . . vacillation between watered-down imitations of British models and authentically American expression'. John Neal, however, a writer of wild romances, firmly rejected 'what is . . . worshipped under the name of classical English' as 'no natural language', and Poe, though sometimes ...


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