The Novel and the American Left
“Lionel Trilling once characterized the 1930s as ‘the indispensable decade’ for American intellectuals in the twentieth century; Janet Galligani Casey's distinctive and sweeping collection confirms that the 1930s were indispensable to the advance of the novel as well. With an eye to contemporary cultural theory, as well as gender and genre, race and ethnicity, and landscape and objectivity, her contributors cogently tackle an ample assortment of issues from knotty conceptual problems to the meticulous dissection of particular texts.”—Alan Wald, professor of English and American culture, University of Michigan, and author of Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Left
“The Novel and the American Left explores how 1930s novelists used various literary strategies to offer both political commentary and literary intervention. Positioning the novel as an important form of intellectual inquiry and political protest, these contemporary critical essays explore a wide range of novels—some well known and others largely forgotten—to remind us that the leftist movement had many meanings, politically and culturally.”—Sherry Liknon, co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies, Youngstown State University
The first collection of critical essays to focus specifically on the fiction produced by American novelists of the Depression era, The Novel and the American Left contributes substantially to the newly emerging emphasis on twentieth-century American literary radicalism. Recent studies have recovered this body of work and redefined in historical and theoretical terms its vibrant contribution to American letters. Casey consolidates and expands this field of study by providing a more specific consideration of individual novels and novelists, many of which are reaching new contemporary audiences through reprints.
The Novel and the American Left focuses exclusively on left-leaning fiction of the Depression era, lending visibility and increased critical validity to these works and showing the various ways in which they contributed not only to theorizations of the Left but also to debates about the content and form of American fiction. In theoretical terms, the collection as a whole contributes to the larger reconceptualization of American modernity currently under way. More pragmatically, individual essays suggest specific authors, texts, and approaches to teachers and scholars seeking to broaden and/or complicate more traditional “American modernism” syllabi and research agendas.
The selected essays take up, among others, such “hard-core"” leftist writers as Mike Gold and Myra Page, who were associated with the Communist Party; the popular novels of James M. Cain and Kenneth Fearing, whose works were made into successful films; and critically acclaimed but nonetheless “lost” novelists such as Josephine Johnson, whose Now in November (Pulitzer Prize, 1936) anticipates and complicates the more popular agrarian mythos of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
This volume will be of interest not only to literary specialists but also to historians, social scientists, and those interested in American cultural studies.
Donna M. Campbell
Janet Galligani Casey