Death! Gotham! Masks! Devil! Ravens! Bells! Sleepy Hollow!

Don’t we all love explorations of the mysterious, of the uncertain of nature? It’s theundeniable mark of the human being: wonder and fear. Last year, I really enjoyed reading speeches, pamphlets full of dreams and power. But then, drifting away from the raising political USA I found the more romantic, folkloric USA, the one we learn the least about. And I am here to talk about Washington Irving,  William Cullen Bryant, and Edgar Allan Poe. I’ll be honest: I’ll say nothing new about Poe.

With no doubt, Irving caught me with three stories. I am very sure you’ve heard of the Sleepy Hollow, perhaps Rip Van Wrinkle and The Devil and Tom Walker, the first two of which are adaptations of German folk tales to his immediate context, New York (wait! did you know he popularized the word “Gotham” to refer to New York, and that’s the origin of the name of the city in Batman?!). What I like the most about his writing is that even though he might seem to go into psychological characters, he doesn’t. He doesn’t try to reveal ONE character, but rather aspects of humans in general through one character. The Devil and Tom Walker, a story where a man encounters a devil in the swamps of Manhattan, talks about the guile for power and goods. Sell your soul to the devil has never been old, and will never get old.

The Devil and Tom Walker by John Quidor

The Devil and Tom Walker by John Quidor

Now, Willian Cullen Bryant marks the beginning of Romantic poetry in the US, moved by what he considered the connection between the self and the universe, a source of poetry directly linked to God that was part of everything. It is all about the power of human imagination to unveil mysteries of nature. Here are some verses of Thanatopsis that reflect on death:

Thine individual being, shalt thou go/ To mix forever with the elements/ To be a brother to the insensible rock/ And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain/ Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak/shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mold.

 

Last but not least, Poe.The horror, the wit, the transformation of natural phenomenons into supernatural ones…!Story after story, poem after poem. No questioning his mastery and his legacy. I read him until I got sick of him: after a while, his techniques get repetitive, but that doesn’t take any of his credits away.  The one shocking thing is that sometimes he seemed too self-indulgent. Example: in Descent into the Maelstrom, the main character, a fisher with little or no academic background comes up with mathematicky terms right in the middle of the whirlpool. He justified it saying some scholar had taught him the words. Poe knew that vocabulary wasn’t realistic, but his smart, intellectual buttocks couldn’t avoid pouring all that geometry and logical thinking into the story. He just couldn’t. But that’s alright, he’s that awesome. If you haven’t read The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, The Bells, and some others, your life isn’t complete. You think it is, but it really isn’t. You can find the ebooks online for no cost, they are public property!

I’d better stop this because I have accumulated about eight more authors… See you soon!!!

What’s up with all these posts in English and on US literature?

Some of you might be wondering that. Last night I realized I needed to provide some background on this.

I fell in love with American Studies during my exchange year in Bozeman, partially because of the excitement and chillingness of my professor Dr. Sara Waller and the enthusiasm of my favorite corrector so far, Trudi Fisher, when it was time to work on my papers.

It was one of those Friday nights by myself early in January this year and I went to take a walk down El Conde. I stopped by a used books stand to “see if anything motivated me”. There were all sorts of books piled on the ground: universal literature classics, engineering textbooks, photography, plastic arts… all of them. And in one of those piles, with at least  fifteen other imposing books on it, I read golden on ocean blue: “Adventures in American Literature”. It felt warm inside, the memories of books on counterculture and flashes of history from that class. I had to get it.

But since I don’t make that sort of decisions quickly, I sat to read under the faint lamp. I glanced through it out for hours, while random men kept stopping by to check other books or sit next to me and talk about life and studies and books and languages and travel. One of them used to study tourism and had hair people would admire back in “his days”. But then he went to Bávaro, met a German girl who drove him crazy and took him to Europe, and forgot about everything. And there he is, back in DR, no hair, no German. Another of them always wanted to learn English, but it was never possible. He would ask why I chose that book, why I studied why I studied, why I would read on a Friday night. The rest would just comment on different books. The rest, of course, is fiction.

I felt more certain about getting that book: “Adventures in American Literature” sounded fresh, fun, seductive. It was published by HBJ (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers) and written by a bunch of guys from everywhere: Francis Hodgins from Illinois, Kenneth Silverman from NY, Milton R. Stern from Connecticut, and Rolando, Hinojosa-Smith from Texas. The edition was very good and the index showed me exactly what I wanted: names, excerpts of texts and references on dozens of American writers, from the colonial time to what available to their date of publication in 1989.

So that’s the reason why I might seem to have suddenly changed: I have a super guide on American Literature I read really slowly. But I also stop for further reading whenever something entices me. It was the case of Sarah Kemble Knight (my favorite up to 1760). I know I will keep writing on my strongest impressions. I can’t restrain myself once that fever starts dragging me towards the blank page. So here is the announcement and warning: There will be English and American Literature… probably mainly.

Next stop: The revolutionary period!