June 2, 2003
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v2.1 Reference

Civil Wars

American Novelists and Manners, 1880-1940

Observers from Alexis de Tocqueville to Lionel Trilling have found the United States wanting in what it takes to produce a novelist of manners—namely, a rich enough past and sufficiently stratified classes. In a work that recovers the broader meaning of "manners" for past generations, Susan Goodman demonstrates that American writers have consistently tied the subject of national identity to the norms and behaviors of everyday life—that, in fact, the novel of manners is a dominant form of American fiction.

Goodman concentrates on a cluster of writers—William Dean Howells, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ellen Glasgow, and Jessie Fauset—whose analyses of manners offer several distinct social histories. Under her scrutiny, these writers' works allow us to view the creative interaction of individual lives, social dynamics, and historical legacies—what might be called the panorama of manners themselves—as well as the development of American fiction. Above all, Goodman shows that novels of manners are central to American literature, and that these novels speak in a large cultural way about who and what composes America.

About the Author

Susan Goodman is a professor of English at the University of Delaware. Her books include Ellen Glasgow: A Biography, also available from Johns Hopkins.


"Goodman aims to show the many ways in which American novelists have scrutinized the norms of everyday life for clues about character, history, morality, social change, and national identity... Her discussions of William Dean Howells, Ellen Glasgow, and Jessie Fauset are particularly cogent."

- Merle Rubin - Washington Times

"Foregrounding questions of taste and manners leads Goodman to a number of new perspectives on the literary production of her subjects."

- Alex Feerst - American Literature

"Goodman presents an original and compelling argument that forces readers to acknowledge that the novel of manners—which typically focused on attitudes toward race, class, and national identity—did in fact play a central role in American literary and cultural history. This book is notable for its insight and originality."

- Choice


"Intelligent and superbly written. This book is fluid and consistently animated with fresh ideas. It will be welcomed by the community of scholars concerned with the so-called novel of manners in America because it refines the definition of this genre, without blurring its differences from the naturalistic novel. Civil Wars is an acute and enormously instructive literary analysis and history."

- Jerome Loving, author of Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself
Johns Hopkins University Press
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216 Pages
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