In this essay, Gilmore argues that examining the largely forgotten early romances of John Neal within a transatlantic framework leads to a reconsideration of our understanding of romanticism in the United States. Focusing on Randolph (1823) and Logan (1822), he draws parallels between Neal’s criticism and fiction and the writings of European romantics such as Friedrich Schlegel and Percy Bysshe Shelley. In doing so, Gilmore contends that Neal provides an alternative understanding of the politics, history, and poetics of romanticism and the romance in the United States. Over the past century, the followers of F. O. Matthiessen and Richard Chase and their New Americanist critics have tended to describe romanticism and the romance in terms of an idealistic retreat into nature or aesthetic form. Furthermore, both mid-twentieth-century critics and later revisionists emphasized a national dimension to American romanticism and the American romance, either as epitomizing a distinctly American literature or as reinforcing or contesting dominant conceptions of the United States. In contrast, he argues that placing the romance, particularly as espoused and practiced by John Neal, at the center of our examination of romanticism in the United States foregrounds the importance of an international literary and sociocultural framework. In this light, romanticism appears less an ideological retreat from modernity or a nationalistic vehicle than a transnational, dialectical engagement with modernity’s atomization of the individual.
Paul Gilmore; John Neal, American Romance, and International Romanticism. American Literature 1 September 2012; 84 (3): 477–504. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1664692
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