Love and Depth in the American Novel: From Stowe to James
Love and Depth in the American Novel seeks to change how we think about the American love story and how we imagine the love of literature. By examining classics of nineteenth-century American literature, Ashley Barnes offers a new approach to literary theory that encompasses both New Historicism and the ethical turn in literary studies.
Couples like Huck and Jim and Ishmael and Queequeg have grounded the classic account of the American novel as exceptionally gothic and antisocial. Barnes argues instead for a model of shared intimacy that connects the evangelical sentimental best seller to the high art of psychological realism. In her reading of works by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Elizabeth Stoddard, Henry James, and others in the context of nineteenth-century Protestant-Catholic debates about how to know and love God, what emerges is an alternate tradition of the American love story that pictures intimacy as communion rather than revelation. Barnes uses that unacknowledged love story to propose a model of literary critical intimacy that depends on reading fiction in its historical context.