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Development of American Literature

American Literature 1815 - 1860

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A distinctive American literature arose in the United States after 1815, with many major writings producing their works between that year and the start of the Civil War. The authors who were writing in this time period produced some of America's most cherished books that are still used in language arts classrooms today. Following is a list of ten major authors who were writing at this time.

1. Washington Irving

Washington Irving was well known in the 1800s for his books about the Dutch settlers of New York. Further, his short stories Rip Van Winkle published in 1819 and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow published in 1820 were and still are much loved.

2. James Fenimore Cooper

The first major American novelist, James Fenimore Cooper wrote a series of five novels called Leatherstocking Tales between 1827 and 1841 about frontier life. The most famous of these were The Last of the Mohicans published in 1826 and The Deerslayer published in 1841.

3. William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen Bryant was a widely read poet whose most famous poem was Thanatopsis (Meditation on Death) which was written after 1811. It begins,
To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks A various language;...

4. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an essayist who wrote about individualism and self reliance. His most famous essay, "Nature" was published in 1836. He was a leader of the transcendentalist movement that occurred in the mid-19th century. This movement believed in the inherent goodness of man and the corrupting nature of societal influences.

5. Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about the Puritanism of early New England. His two most famous novels are The Scarlet Letter published in 1850 and The House of Seven Gables published in 1851. His works, part of the Romantic movement, often concern morality and the base nature of humanity.

6. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a much loved poet who used American history as his topic. His most famous poems include The Song of Hiawatha published in 1855, The Courtship of Miles Standish published in 1858, and Paul Revere's Ride published in 1860. He found popularity not only in America but also in Europe.

7. Herman Melville

Herman Melville's most famous novel was Moby Dick published in 1851. It detailed one man's struggle as he pursued the great white whale. While his novels were at first successful, his success did not last long. It was not until the 1920s that his works were reexamined in what is known as the "Melville Revival."

8. Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was a poet and short story writer whose writing was typically macabre in nature. His most famous short stories were The Murders of the Rue Morgue (1841), The Pit and the Pendulum (1842), and The Tell-Tale Heart (1843). His most famous poem was The Raven published in 1845. While many stories are told about Poe allegedly using opium, this is not founded on actual fact. However, it is known that he was a heavy drinker.

9. Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, was a leader of the transcendentalist movement. He believed in simple, natural living. His most famous work was Walden; or, Life in the Woods was published in 1854. It was about his own experiences while living in a cabin on Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

10. Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1852. As an abolitionist, Stowe chose to write a fictional account of life under slavery. It detailed the horrors of slavery in the South and had a huge impact on the call for the abolition of slavery before the start of the Civil War.

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