"Hitler and hogs" : the personal essay and American culture between the two world wars / by Ned Carleton Stuckey-French.
During the 1920s and 1930s, American critics and essayists debated the "death of the essay," often pitting various kinds of essays against another. Old-fashioned or modern(ist)? English or American? Genteel or common? Light or substantive? Humorous or serious? Familiar or formal? Personal or political? This dissertation shows how a number of essayists of the period chose finally not to take sides, but to incorporate both sides into their work in order to synthesize something new. Taking my title from Katharine Fullerton Gerould who wrote in 1934 that the "perfect essayist" might be able to write "a good essay on Hitler or on hogs, and I should be enchanted to read it--but he has not done it yet, and I am not yet enchanted," I argue that the power of an essay to enchant cannot be determined by its subject matter alone and that enchantment is not the sole end of the essay. William Carlos Williams's "An Essay on Virginia" (1925) is a singular experiment in the application of modernist aesthetic principles to the essay. Essays by W. E. B. Du Bois, Eric Walrond, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright reveal changes in the way African American essayists tried to solve the interrelated problems of being black in America and addressing an audience that is racially integrated but dominated by whites. Alexander Woollcott's profiles of his good friend Harpo Marx demonstrate the way in which he was able as a gay writer to appropriate certain features of the genteel essay in order to express love and desire for his heterosexual friend. In 1938, E. B. White decided to leave New York for Maine in order to write a monthly column entitled "One Man's Meat" that demonstrated how a genial voice could deal with global issues. "Hitler and Hogs" demonstrates that as early as the 1920s a diverse group of essayists was already laying the groundwork for today's renaissance in the essay, and that their success derived from a recognition that the essay must always transcend the efforts of dogmatists to divide it, pigeonhole it and debate it to death.
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