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In a scathing November 2018 editorial published in The Guardian, public intellectual Rebecca Solnit connected a series of violent white supremacist acts in Charleston, Charlottesville, and Pittsburgh to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Writing with characteristic verve, Solnit concluded, “If you are white, you could consider that the Civil War ended in 1865. But the blowback against Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the myriad forms of segregation and deprivation of rights and freedoms and violence against black people, kept the population subjugated and punished into the present in ways that might as well be called war.”1 Solnit’s was in many ways a representative argument during the age of Donald Trump, whom Solnit deemed “an openly Confederate president.” In a moment of intense political division and social strife, many critics and commentators find themselves returning to this difficult period in American history in search of precedent.
The legacies of the Civil War and Reconstruction remain a central part of American life a century and a half later. Drawing together leading scholars in literary studies and history, this volume offers accessible treatments of major authors and genres of this period, including Walt Whitman, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Rebecca Harding Davis, Frederick Douglass, and Charles Chesnutt, as well as fiction, poetry, drama, and life-writing. Although focused on literature, this Companion also canvases battlefields, homefronts, and hospitals, and discusses a range of topics, including constitutional reform and presidential impeachment; emancipation and Africa; material culture and monuments; education, civil rights, and reenactment. The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the American Civil War and Reconstruction speaks powerfully to literature's ability to help readers come to terms with a violent, oppressive history while also imagining a different future.
This book is the first omnibus history of the literature of the American Civil War, the deadliest conflict in US history. A History of American Civil War Literature examines the way in which the war has been remembered and rewritten over time in prose, poems, and other narratives. This history incorporates new directions in Civil War historiography and cultural studies while giving equal attention to writings from both northern and southern states. It redresses the traditional neglect of southern literary cultures by moving between the North and the South, thus finding a balance between Union and Confederate texts. Written by leading scholars in the field, this book works to redefine the boundaries of American Civil War literature while posing a fundamental question: why does this 150-year-old conflict continue to capture the American imagination?