Post-Revolutionary war, there was a group of American artists, including the first generation to really consider themselves professional writers, who were concerned with creating an American cultural identity. However, much of American’s cultural understanding was shaped by the art and literature from Europe, and by the assumption that culture was for the socially elite. Thus, there was some controversy among artists and writers about the ways to develop an American culture that was different, as well as controversy within American in general regarding creating an American language that was distinct from the English of Great Britain.
As this discussion evolved, there were calls for writers to create a distinctly American style of language and writing. Many writers who we recognize as the great American writers bought into this, working to create an American literature that was different in significant ways from the European written works (which were still widely read and circulated within the Colonies and later within America). Chief among these was Washington Irving. At this time there is also a significant controversy revolving around the reading of fiction. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, the novel became widely popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Irving, at the prodding of Sir Walter Scott (of England) took German Romantic literature (specifically folk tales) and naturalized them to display a strong sense of American place. These stories, both included in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, offer stories couched in American themes and American scenery. By this time period, many American writers were focusing on things within their literature that were uniquely American, including the wilderness, local landscapes, rural villages, issues of slavery and images of native peoples. In many ways, the literature of this time period celebrates America as a unique physically, culturally and politically. Regionalism is a way that this is embraced by individual writers and artists, and something that continues throughout America’s literature, extending even to today.
Jenifer Kurtz, CC-BY