One of the most enduring dilemmas for American literary studies has been the question of whether (and if so, how) one might liberate the study of American literature from the straitjacket of American exceptionalism without in the process recasting the history of American writing as nothing more than an epiphenomenon of the emergent capitalist world system. For some, of course, seeing early American literature as just such an epiphenomenon is enough. Others among us might find ourselves reminded of “Must the Novelist Crusade?” in which Eudora Welty (2002: 81) writes: “The novel itself always affirms, it seems to me, by the nature of itself. It says what people are like. It doesn’t, and doesn’t know how to, describe what they are not like, and it would waste its time if it told us what we ought to be like, since...

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