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This chapter surveys literary criticism during the high phase of modernism with special focus on major critics’ conflicting attitudes toward reality. I show that the word reality is of central importance in our understanding of the era’s literary culture. Critics largely agreed that reality is the best touchstone to test the worth of a literary work, but they disagreed over what made some literary works more real than others. Their contrasting definitions of reality resulted in different ways to construct the literary canon.
American Literature in Transition, 1930–1940 gathers together in a single volume preeminent critics and historians to offer an authoritative, analytic, and theoretically advanced account of the Depression era's key literary events. Many topics of canonical importance, such as protest literature, Hollywood fiction, the culture industry, and populism, receive fresh treatment. The book also covers emerging areas of interest, such as radio drama, bestsellers, religious fiction, internationalism, and middlebrow domestic fiction. Traditionally, scholars have treated each one of these issues in isolation. This volume situates all the significant literary developments of the 1930s within a single and capacious vision that discloses their hidden structural relations - their contradictions, similarities, and reciprocities. This is an excellent resource for undergraduate, graduate students, and scholars interested in American literary culture of the 1930s.