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With the publication in 1930 of the third and final volume of his Main Currents in American Thought, Vernon Parrington gave singular shape and force to an already established paradigm of the American nineteenth century as two discrete eras, hinged politically and culturally by the Civil War. After 1865, goes the familiar narrative, the Boston Brahmins and their ‘‘love of standards’’ were unseated by itinerant, gritty, self-made writers based in New York. For Parrington, this literary restaging of the American Revolution, in which Old World aristocratic power fell at the hands of an American populism, was best exemplified by Mark Twain—‘‘a native writer thinking his own thoughts, using his own eyes, speaking his own dialect— everything European fallen away. ’’ This narrative, recycled by such esteemed scholars as William Charvat, Lewis Simpson, and Robert Spiller, has proved resilient during much of the twentieth century.

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Duke University Press


Durham, NC

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American Literature