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The impact created in 1852 by the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin of Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe made her the most widely known American woman writer of the 19th century. Harriet Beecher Stowe's personality and her work are mint products of her culture. They represent a special combination of rigid Calvinist discipline (fight against it though she tried), sentimental weakness for the romanticism of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, and a crusading sense of social and political responsibility. In 1834 she began writing for the Western Monthly Magazine and was awarded a $50 prize for her tale "A New England Sketch." Her writing during the next 16 years was to be sketchy indeed, for on Jan. 6, 1836, she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor in the Lane Seminary, and they had seven children during a period of financial hardship. At the same time she did, however, have the opportunity to visit the South, and she observed with particular attention the operation of the slave system there. In 1850 Calvin Stowe was called to a chair at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where they had their last child. She then set about writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, which first appeared in serial form in 1851-1852 in the National Era, a Washington, D.C., antislavery newspaper. The book was published in 1852 in a two-volume edition by the house of John P. Jewett and sold 300,000 copies in its first year--10,000 in the first week. During the first 5 years of its publication, the book sold half a million copies in America alone. The later years of her life were spent, in large part, in Florida, where she and her husband tried, with only moderate success, to manage the income from her literary activities. 

Adapted from: "Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. The Two Altars, or, Two Pictures in One: By Harriet Beecher Stowe. [J. P. Jewett], [c1852]. 

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Agnes of Sorrento: By Harriet Beecher Stowe …. Ticknor and Fields, 1862.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. The Minister's Wooing: By Harriet Beecher Stowe. Derby and Jackson, 1859.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Betty's Bright Idea: Also, Deacon Pitkin's Farm, and the First Christmas of New England: By Harriet Beecher Stowe …. J. B. Ford, 1876.


Novelist and social critic James Fenimore Cooper was the first major American writer to deal imaginatively with American life, notably in his five "Leather-Stocking Tales." He was also a critic of the political, social, and religious problems of the day. Cooper was a vigorous and obstreperous young man who was sent away to be educated, first by a clergyman in Albany and then at Yale, where he was dismissed for a student prank. His father then arranged for him to go to sea on a merchant vessel bound for England and Spain. After that, Cooper joined the navy. These experiences at sea stimulated at least a third of his later imaginative writing. All of the novels of the first period of Cooper's literary career (1820-1828) were as experimental as the first two. Three dealt with the frontier and Native American life (The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Prairie), three with the sea (The Pilot, The Red Rover, and The Water Witch), and three with American history (The Spy, Lionel Lincoln, and The Wept of Wishton-Wish). His reputation as a popular novelist established, Cooper went abroad in 1826 to arrange for the translation and foreign publication of his works and to give his family the advantages of European residence and travel. He stayed 7 years, during which he completed two more romances, but thereafter, until 1840, he devoted most of his energy to political and social criticism--both in fiction and in nonfiction. The power and persistence of this first major American author in attempting a total imaginative redaction of American life, coupled with an equal skill in the description of place and the depiction of action, overcame the liabilities of both the heavy romantic style current in his day and his substitution of the character type for the individual character. Appreciated first in Europe, his most action-packed novels survived the eclipse of his reputation as a serious literary artist (brought about through attacks on his stormy personality and unpopular social ideas) and eventually led to a restudy of his entire oeuvre. In the process, Cooper was restored to his rightful place as the first major American man of letters.

Adapted from: "James Fenimore Cooper." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998

Cooper, James Fenimore. Lionel Lincoln, or, the Leaguer of Boston. Vol. 2, Charles Wiley, 1824

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Monikins: Edited by the Author of "The Spy" …. Vol. 2, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1835.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Bravo: A Tale: By the Author of "The Spy," "The Red Rover," "The Water-Witch," &c. …. Vol. 2, Carey & Lea, 1831

Cooper, James Fenimore. Mercedes of Castile, or, the Voyage to Cathay. Vol. 2, Lea & Blanchard, 1840


The work of American fiction writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was based on the history of his Puritan ancestors and the New England of his own day but, in its "power of blackness," has universal significance. His ancestors included Puritan magnates, judges, and seamen. Two aspects of his heritage were especially to affect his imagination. The Hathornes (Nathaniel added the "w" to the name) had been involved in religious persecution with their first American forebear, William, and John Hathorne was one of the three judges at the 17th-century Salem witchcraft trials. Further, the family had over the generations gradually declined from its early prominence and prosperity into relative obscurity and indigence. With the aid of his prosperous maternal uncles, the Mannings, Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College from 1821 to 1825, when he graduated. Among his classmates were poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Franklin Pierce, the future president of the United States, who was to be at his friend's deathbed; and Horatio Bridge, who was to subsidize the publication of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales in 1837. At Bowdoin, Hawthorne read widely and received solid instruction in English composition and the classics, particularly in Latin. His persistent refusal to engage in public speaking prevented his achieving any marked academic distinction, but he made a creditable record. Most of Hawthorne's early stories were published anonymously in magazines and giftbooks. In his own words, he was "for a good many years, the obscurest man of letters in America." Hawthorne's short stories came slowly but steadily into critical favor, and the best of them have become American classics. It may well be claimed for them as a whole that they are the outstanding achievement in their genre to be found in the English language during the 19th century. Lucid, graceful, and well composed, they combine an old-fashioned neoclassic purity of diction with a latent and hard complexity of meaning. They are broadly allegorical but infused with imaginative passion. The case of Hawthorne is complex, in his life and in his writings. A born writer, like Edgar Allan Poe he suffered the difficulties of the writer in early-19th-century America: an unsympathetic environment, the materialism of a physically expanding nation, the lack of an artistic tradition. His Puritan heritage was both a support and a drawback. With his Puritanism, Hawthorne also inherited the Augustan culture of the early 18th century--a common case in New England, but especially powerful in his. Thus came the purity of his prose style, and its coolness and balance, in a sense retrogressive in his own time. Yet he was also responsive to the influence of his near contemporaries, the English romantics.

Adapted from: "Nathaniel Hawthorne." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Twice-Told Tales: By Nathaniel Hawthorne. Vol. 2, James Munroe, 1842

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance..: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1852

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Fanshawe: A Tale: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Marsh & Capen; Press of Putnam and Hunt, 1828

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Septimius Felton: Or, the Elixir of Life..: Nathaniel Hawthorne. James R. Osgood and Company, 1872


Considered the first professional man of letters in the United States, Washington Irving was influential in the development of the short story form and helped to gain international respect for fledgling American literature. Although Irving was also renowned in his lifetime for his extensive work in history and biography, it was through his short stories that he most strongly influenced American writing in subsequent generations and introduced a number of now-familiar images and archetypes into the body of the national literature. Irving served as secretary to the American embassy in London, from 1829 until 1832, when he returned to the United States. After receiving warm accolades from the literary and academic communities, he set out on a tour of the rugged western part of the country, which took him as far as Oklahoma. Irving eventually settled near Tarrytown, New York, at a small estate on the Hudson River, which he named Sunnyside. Apart from four years in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, in which he spent as President John Tyler's minister to Spain, Irving lived in the United States for the rest of his life. Among the notable works of his later years is an extensive biography of George Washington, which Irving worked on determinedly, despite ill health, from the early 1850s until a few months before his death in 1859. 

Adapted from: "Washington Irving." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998


Irving, Washington. The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent: Washington Irving. Printed by C. S. Van Winkle, 1819

Irving, Washington. Wolfert's Roost, and Other Papers, Now First Collected: By Washington Irving. G. P. Putnam, 1855

Irving, Washington. The Beauties of Washington Irving…. Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1835

Irving, Washington. The Works of Washington Irving. Vol. 1, Lea & Blanchard, 1840 


American author Herman Melville is best known for his novel Moby-Dick. His work was a response, though often in a negative or ambivalent way, to the romantic movement that dominated American literature in the mid-19th century. Herman Melville's early autobiographical novels of adventure in the South Seas earned him a popularity that diminished as his writing turned to metaphysical themes and allegorical techniques, moving in directions that later generations would recognize as existentialism, Freudian psychologizing, and blackly comic satire. He had some success with his magazine sketches and short stories, but his poetry, a main concern during the latter part of his life, was ignored. Largely forgotten at the time of his death, he was rediscovered with the shift in taste that followed World War I. Melville's family background included Revolutionary War heroes, Dutch patricians, Calvinists, and upper-middle-class New Englanders, but his boyhood was spent in genteel poverty. Melville's studies at the Albany Academy terminated with his father's death. Thereafter, he was largely self-educated and for a while something of a drifter…. He tried various occupations--bank clerk, clerk in the family business, country schoolmaster--and he studied surveying before becoming a sailor. At 18 Melville made his first voyage as a crew member on a New York-Liverpool packet ship. At 22 he shipped on the whaler Acushnet. Returning four years later, he almost immediately began writing novels derived from his adventures. At this time Polynesia was a romantic and little-known region. Furthermore, maritime affairs were a matter of public interest. Also, there was a market for authentic personal narratives as opposed to fictional "romances." Melville died in New York City on Sept. 28, 1891. In 1985, the New York City Herman Melville Society declared the intersection of Park Avenue south and 26th Street to be Herman Melville Square. In 2010, Melville's memory was again honored when a group of paleontologists discovered a 12-13 million year old fossil of a sea monster in Peru. They named the new species of sperm whale Leviathan melvillei in honor of Melville and his novel Moby Dick.

Adapted from: Herman Melville." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998


Melville, Herman. The Piazza Tales..: Herman Melville. Dix & Edwards; Sampson Low, Son & Co., 1856

Melville, Herman. The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade..: Herman Melville. Dix, Edwards & Co., 1857

Melville, Herman. Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile..: Herman Melville. 1855

Melville, Herman. White-Jacket: Or, the World in a Man-Of-War: Herman Melville. Harper & Brothers, Publishers; Richard Bentley, 1850

EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849)

Unquestionably one of America's major writers, Edgar Allan Poe was far ahead of his time in his vision of a special area of human experience--the "inner world" of dream, hallucination, and imagination. He wrote fiction, poetry, and criticism and was a magazine editor. More than a century after his death, Poe continued to inspire many prominent authors. In these years, his work garnered ever-mounting esteem. Poe was best known to his own generation as an editor and critic; his poems and short stories commanded only a small audience. But to some extent in his poems, and to an impressive degree in his tales, he was a pioneer in opening up areas of human experience for artistic treatment, an area at which his contemporaries only hinted. His vision asserts that reality for the human being is essentially subterranean, contradictory to surface reality, and profoundly irrational in character. Two generations later, he was hailed by the symbolist movement as the prophet of the modern sensibility. Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809, the son of professional actors. By the time he was three, Poe, his older brother, and younger sister had lost their mother to consumption and their father through desertion. The children were split up, going to various families to live. As Poe entered adolescence, however, bad feelings developed between him and John Allan. John Allan disapproved of his ward's literary inclinations, thought him surly and ungrateful, and gradually seemed to have decided Poe was not to be his heir after all. When, in 1826, Poe entered the newly opened University of Virginia, John Allan's allowance was so meager that Poe turned to gambling to supplement his income. After great struggle Poe got a job on the New York Mirror in 1844. He lasted, characteristically, into 1845, switching then to the editorship of the Broadway Journal. Although he was now deep in public literary feuds, things seemed to be breaking in his favor. It was not hard to see the connection between the nightmares of Poe's life and his work. Behind a screen of sometimes substantial, sometimes flimsy "reality," his fictional work resembles the dreams of a distressed individual who keeps coming back, night after night, to the same pattern of dream. At times he traces out the pattern lightly, at other times in a "thoughtful" mood, but often the tone is terror. Poe's critics interpreted this pattern to represent the search of the individual for himself by going deep into himself and his ultimate arrival at the unplumbed mystery of his inner self. This search has come, of course, to characterize much of twentieth-century art, and it was the distinguished accomplishment of Poe as an artist that his work looked forward with such startling precision to the work of the century that followed.

Adapted from: "Edgar Allan Poe." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998


Davis, J. Watson, et al. Mystery Tales of Edgar Allan Poe: With an Introduction by G. Mercer Adam; Illustrated by J. Watson Davis. A. L. Burt, 1907

Poe, Edgar Allan, and Superior Printing Company. The Chess Player: And Eleven Other Masterful Stories and Essays: By Edgar Allan Poe. Superior Print. Co., 1908

Poe, Edgar Allan, et al. The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe: With Notices of His Life and Genius: By N. P. Willis, J. R. Lowell, and, R. W. Griswold. Vol. 2, J. S. Redfield, 1850

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque: By Edgar A. Poe. Vol. 1, Lea and Blanchard, 1840

MARK TWAIN (1835-1910)

Mark Twain, American humorist and novelist, captured a world audience with stories of boyhood adventure and with commentary on man's shortcomings that is humorous even while it probes, often bitterly, the roots of human behavior. Bred among American traditions of frontier journalism and influenced by such cracker-box humorists as Artemus Ward and by the tradition of the tall tale, Mark Twain scored his first successes as a writer and lecturer with his straight-faced, laconic recitation of incredible comic incidents in simple, direct, colloquial language. His was an oral style, and his principal contribution is sometimes thought to be the creation of a genuinely native idiom. Some contemporaries considered Mark Twain's language uncouth and crude when compared with the well-mannered prose of William Dean Howells or the intricately contrived expression of Henry James. Though conventionally less disciplined and less consistently successful than either, Mark Twain surpassed both in popular esteem and is remembered with them as foremost in the creation of prose fiction in the United States during the late nineteenth century. Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the frontier village of Florida, Missouri. He spent his boyhood in nearby Hannibal, on the bank of the Mississippi River, observing its busy life, fascinated by its romance, but chilled by the violence and bloodshed it bred. Twelve years old when his lawyer father died, he began working as an apprentice, then a compositor, with local printers, contributing occasional squibs to local newspapers. In 1861 Clemens traveled to Nevada, where he speculated carelessly in timber and silver mining. He settled down to newspaper work in Virginia City, until his reckless pen and temper brought him into conflict with local authorities; it seemed profitable to escape to California. Meanwhile he had adopted the pen name of Mark Twain, a riverman's term for water that was safe, but only just safe, for navigation. In 1865 the Sacramento Union commissioned Mark Twain to report on a new excursion service to Hawaii. In June 1867 Mark Twain left New York and went to Europe and the Holy Land, sending accounts to the California paper and to Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. They were fresh and racy, alert, informed, and sidesplittingly funny. Their accent was American western humor; their traditional theme was the decay of transatlantic institutions when compared with the energetic freshness of the western life-style. Yet the humor also exposed the traveling American innocents as they haggled through native bazaars, completely innocent of their own outlandish appearance. Mark Twain's early books were sold by subscription; they sold well, for Twain prided himself on gauging public taste. Many were not issued until subscription agents had secured enough advance orders to make them surely profitable. As a traveling lecturer, he helped sell his books, and his books helped pack his lectures. He was probably the best-known and certainly among the most prosperous writers of his generation. On his return to the United States in 1900, Mark Twain rose to new heights of popularity. His publicized insistence on paying every creditor had made him something of a public hero. He was widely sought as a speaker, and he seemed proud to be the genial companion of people like the Rockefellers and Andrew Carnegie, though in private he opposed the principles for which they seemed to stand. With the income from the excerpts of his autobiography, he built a large house in Redding, Connecticut, which he named Stormfield. There, after several trips to Bermuda to bolster his waning health, he died on April 21, 1910.

Adapted from: "Mark Twain." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998


Twain, Mark, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Merry Tales: By Mark Twain. C. L. Webster & Co., 1892

Twain, Mark, and Harper & Brothers. The {Dollar} 30, 000 Bequest: And Other Stories: By Mark Twain. Harper & Bros., [1906]

Twain, Mark. The £1,000,000 Bank-Note, and Other Stories: By Mark Twain [Pseud. of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.]. Charles L. Webster, 1893

Twain, Mark. Punch, Brothers, Punch!: And Other Sketches: By Mark Twain [Pseud. of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.]. Slote, Woodman & Co, [1878]

EDITH WHARTON (1862-1937)

Edith Wharton, American author, chronicled the life of affluent Americans between the Civil War and World War I. By the age of 18 Edith had published poems in magazines and in a privately printed volume and had experimented with fiction. However, events deferred her writing career. The family's second long European trip ended in her father's death. Marriage brought Edith Wharton two things she valued most, travel and leisure for writing. In the early 1890s her stories began appearing in magazines, but her first commercial success was a book written with an architect, The Decoration of Houses (1897). In 1905, after she began her friendship with Henry James, Wharton's first masterpiece, The House of Mirth, laid bare the cruelties of New York society. Her range was apparent in Tales of Men and Ghosts (1910), a collection of chillers, and in the celebrated novella Ethan Frome (1911). In 1910 the Whartons moved to France, where Edward Wharton suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a sanitorium. After their divorce in 1913, Edith Wharton stayed in France, writing lovingly about it in French Ways and Their Meanings (1919) and other books. The Age of Innocence, a splendid novel of New York, won the Pulitzer Prize (1921), and a dramatization of Mrs. Wharton's novella The Old Maid won the Pulitzer Prize for drama (1935). She died of a cardiac attack on Aug. 11, 1937, and was buried in Versailles next to Walter Berry.

Adapted from: "Edith Wharton." Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, 1998


Wharton, Edith. Crucial Instances: By Edith Wharton. C. Scribner's Sons, 1901

Wharton, Edith. The Greater Inclination: By Edith Wharton. C. Scribner's Sons, 1899

Wharton, Edith. The Valley of Decision: A Novel: By Edith Wharton. Vol. 1, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902

Wharton, Edith. A Gift from the Grave: By Edith Wharton. J. Murray, 1901


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