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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 56

of honor appear, especially arising from the codes of the gaming table and the duel, there is little of that casuistry which in the medieval courtly romances plays so large a part. There might be more of it were there not a tolerably constant strain of humor, though more generally the characteristic American “good humor” than wit or comedy. Burlesque frequently shows its head, as a rule in connection with the lower order of characters, who, as with Scott, are more likely to be conceived as amusing than as heroic. Such non-English elements in the population as the Irish, German, and French commonly play comic rôles; the negroes have hardly ever any character but that of faithful slaves; and the Indians stand normally at one extreme or other of the scale—fierce savages to be exterminated without mercy or amiable sons and daughters of nature. Towards history most of the romancers took the attitude that it existed for the edification or for the elevation of their readers, and they did not hesitate to enlarge it at will. On the whole the most realistic elements in the entire tradition are the geography, which almost never becomes hazy and casual as in medieval romance, and the landscape, which, though grandiose and elaborate, is little more so in the novels than it was in fact at a time when the great forests and mountains and prairies of the continent were still immense as compared with the settled regions. A certain largeness about the physical horizons, indeed, went a long way for Cooper’s generation, and in the twentieth century still goes a fair distance, toward tempting readers to forget the countless conventional elements in our early fiction. Without their sense of that



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