Cover image for Writing the American classics
Writing the American classics
Barbour, James, 1933-
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [1990]

Physical Description:
xiv, 287 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1420 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS88 .W7 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



This collection of essays describes the genesis of ten classic works of American literature. Using biographical, cultural, and manuscript evidence, the contributors tell the "stories of stories," plotting the often curious and always interesting ways in which notable American books took shape in a writer's mind.

The genetic approach taken in these essays derives from a curiosity, and sometimes a feeling of awe, about how a work of literature came to exist -- what motivated its creation, informed its vision, urged its completion. It is just that sort of wonder that first brings some people to love writers and their books.

Originally published in 1990.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

Author Notes

James Barbour, professor of English at the University of New Mexico

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Sanely, sensibly, and in moderate, measured tone, this book invites a resumption of dialogue among literary scholars and critics, in a way calling for a truce in some current (and some long-standing) critical wars. Most of the ten essays here are twice-told tales, stories about stories--ten selected American texts widely accepted as classics--by Franklin, Melville, Thoreau, Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Wright, and (less widely perhaps) Cather and Steinbeck. The stories of their genesis, composition, and refinement toward publication--with some, perhaps, even yet not "definitive"--are uniformly well told and are well worth reading by the ordinary reader simply because they are interesting, and worth re-reading by the specialist for a reminder of the fascinating vagaries of the creative process. Each illuminates the sources and resources used by, and the pressures upon, a particular human sensibility and creative imagination at a particular moment in history, before the classic became a classic, thereby helping explain how and why this has happened. Editor Quirk's "Afterword" neatly defends the "geneticism"these essays represent as a methodology to be heeded and respected, not as a pugnacious counter to theory but as a necessary counter-weight that can give persuasive enabling power to theory. The reiterated word "human" in this final essay provides a tonic reminder that a literary experience is a human one. Highly recommended for all readers. J. R. Vitelli, emeritus Lafayette College

Table of Contents

James Barbour and Tom QuirkJ. A. Leo LemayJames BarbourRobert SattelmeyerTom QuirkJames WoodressWilliam BalassiSally Wolff and David MinterScott DonaldsonKeneth KinnamonLouis OwensTom Quirk
Introductionp. ix
Lockean Realities and Olympian Perspectives: The Writing of Franklin's Autobiographyp. 1
"All My Books Are Botches": Melville's Struggle with The Whalep. 25
The Remaking of Waldenp. 53
Nobility out of Tatters: The Writing of Huckleberry Finnp. 79
The Composition of The Professor's Housep. 106
Hemingway's Greatest Iceberg: The Composition of The Sun Also Risesp. 125
A "Matchless Time": Faulkner and the Writing of The Sound and the Furyp. 156
A Short History of Tender Is the Nightp. 177
How Native Son Was Bornp. 209
The Mirror and the Vamp: Invention, Reflection, and Bad, Bad Cathy Trask in East of Edenp. 235
Afterwordp. 258
Contributorsp. 273
Indexp. 277