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MemoirAn Introduction$
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G. Thomas Couser

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199826902

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199826902.001.0001

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Memoir’s American Roots

Memoir’s American Roots

Chapter:
(p.108) [5] Memoir’s American Roots
Source:
Memoir
Author(s):

G. Thomas Couser

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199826902.003.0006

This chapter attempts to identify and illuminate some precedents for the modern memoir in early genres and masterpieces of American literature. It shows that much early American literature was what may be called life writing today: letters, diaries, chronicles, and occasional poetry. The nineteenth century produced a number of precursors for modern memoirs, including Richard Henry Dana's Two Years before the Mast and Thoreau's Walden is more ambitious: it models an exemplary alternative lifestyle. The chapter also explores monuments or masterpieces of American life writing by Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Henry Adams, Henry James, and Gertrude Stein. It demonstrates that literary memoir is not a recent upstart: well before the twentieth century, American literature was rich in precedents for much of what has been hailed as valuable in contemporary memoir.

Keywords:   American literature, American life writing, Richard Henry Dana, Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Henry Adams, Henry James

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