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Facing FactsRealism in American Thought and Culture, 1850–1920$
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David E. Shi

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780195106534

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195106534.001.0001

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Goods and Surfaces

Goods and Surfaces

(p.79) 5 Goods and Surfaces
Facing Facts

David E. Shi

Oxford University Press

The commanding reality in the United States during the 19th-century was an ever-accelerating industrial revolution that transformed the very nature of social life and generated a conspicuous new urban consciousness and culture. In the process, many came to expect a literary and artistic representation of their new urban culture. In the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman asserted that the poet and artist must assimilate “the factories and mercantile life and labor-saving machinery.” Artist John Ferguson Weir experienced a similar enchantment in the presence of modern industrial technology. More than any other mechanical innovation during the 19th century, the railroad served as the most ubiquitous symbol of the new industrial age. Nathaniel Hawthorne saw in the railroad the spirit of commercial concerns intruding upon the pre-industrial imagination. Perhaps more than any other factor, this pervasive materialism helped spawn the realistic movement in thought and the arts.

Keywords:   industrial revolution, urban culture, Walt Whitman, John Ferguson Weir, materialism

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