Carl Van Doren (1885–1950). The American Novel. 1921.
Aiming to be a history rather than a partizan document, the account here offered does not take sides with any of the modes of fiction which have existed, or which exist, in the United States. To this lack of partizanship may be ascribed a disinclination to define the term “novel” too exactly. A different critical disposition might have denied the name to certain allegories, romances, and humorous autobiographies admitted to the record apparently without question. As a matter of fact, they have all been questioned closely, with the resulting conviction that to classify and exclude them would be vain, since the effect of invented narrative is much the same no matter what the technical subdivision into which any specific book may fall. A fuller history of the American imagination would indeed have to take into account poems and plays and short stories as well, with all the national myths and legends and traditions and aspirations. This particular study, however, has had to be limited to long prose narratives in which the element of fact is on the whole less than the element of fiction.
The unpartizan and historical character of the book accounts also for the proportions assigned to exposition and criticism. It had to be borne in mind that, though there are useful critical studies of particular American novelists, no extended study of the American novel, in its various phases, has heretofore been made. Criticism has therefore had to wait a little on exposition. Finally, novelists still living appear in this record only to the extent needful for an indication of the general tendencies of recent fiction. To write about contemporaries calls for a scale and method of treatment essentially different from that employed with writers whose work is done. Discussion of the American novel of the twentieth century is reserved for a further volume, already planned and in part executed.
In its general outlines the present study follows the chapters on fiction which the same author contributed to The Cambridge History of American Literature published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, with whose courteous permission this much larger version is considerably indebted to those chapters. Acknowledgments are due as well to The Nation for the use of materials which have appeared in its pages.