American Drama: The Bastard Art by Susan Harris Smith

By Susan Harris Smith

During this publication, Susan Harris Smith seems on the many frequently conflicting cultural and educational purposes for the overlook and dismissal of yankee drama as a sound literary shape. masking a variety of themes resembling theatrical functionality, the increase of nationalist feeling, the construction of educational disciplines, and the improvement of sociology, Smith's research is a contentious and revisionist historic inquiry into the bothered cultural and canonical prestige of yankee drama, either as a literary style and as a replicate of yankee society.

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Out of 764 pages in Russell Blankenship's American Literature as an Expression of the National Mind (1949), only fifteen concern drama. Marcus Cunliffe in The Literature of the United States (1954) devotes a seventeen-page chapter to white male playwrights, beginning with what he terms the "bastard art-form" of the nineteenth century, but half the chapter is devoted to O'Neill. In Leon Howard's Literature and the American Tradition (i960), which spans the years from 1608 to 1956 in three hundred pages, six pages in the epilogue are given to brief mention of seven white male playwrights writing in the twenties and thirties (Odets, O'Neill, Anderson, Lawson, Rice, Saroyan, and Wilder).

As far as Quinn is concerned, Howells was unsurpassed in the writing of English language farces, but "the fact that the one-act plays of Howells were acted chiefly by amateurs has obscured their significance" (66-67). Lists of writers who have written plays should not be necessary, yet most major histories of American literature and many anthologies suggest or imply that there is no such thing as American dramatic literature. In fact, the widespread discrimination against American dramatic literature is of long standing; it is the sour leitmotif in American publishing, academic or commercial, highbrow or low, where drama in general is slighted to a great 30 GENERIC HEGEMONY extent but American drama virtually is erased.

One tactic to resist the dominant idea that American drama is not literature would be to invoke verse drama and appreciative studies of it, such as Denis Donoghue's The Third Voice, but to do so would be to capitulate to the narrow, elitist assumptions about what constitutes "literature" and to make an exception for verse drama. American drama, in whatever form, is literature to the same degree as any other genre, although its patterned isolation is unique. Patterned Isolation The isolation of American dramatic literature from American literature was one of Arthur Hobson Quinn's concerns in AHistory ofthe American Drama from the Civil War to the Present Day (1936), one of the earliest and most comprehensive surveys of the genre.

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