The American Epic

Transforming a Genre, 1770–1860

The American Epic

This is the first thorough account of the many attempts during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to fashion a distinctly American epic literature from a wide range of potentially heroic New World subjects. McWilliams considers the cultural, political and literary implications of adapting Enlightenment news of republican progress to a genre that had traditionally celebrated the greatness of warriors. He shows how and why the epic in America had to be transformed from imitative narrative poetry into the new genres of prose history (Irving, Prescott, Parkman), fictional romance (Cooper, Melville), and free verse (Whitman).


" important book that fills a gap in our knowledge and strengthens our understanding of 19th-century literary culture." Choice

"McWilliams surveys the work of Barlow, Dwight, and Trumbull with a sharp eye toward the rhetorical work each must perform introducing his epic to the public, revealing the discomforts each feels in suiting vehicle to message." David S. Shields, The Eighteenth Century