“What’s most impressive about Truth’s Ragged Edge is Gura’s ability to corral all this material into a coherent literary history with an overarching theme: The ongoing tension in American fiction between the individualized pursuit of happiness and communal values grounded in old-time religion.”—Mike Fischer, Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee)
“Combining his various fields of expertise, [Gura’s] latest venture aims to tell the story of the American novel in its first century. It begins in 1789 with William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy, which Gura finds to be the earliest known American novel, and follows the technological innovations that influenced the evolution of the novel, and the cultures that grew up around it, in its first hundred years.”—The New Yorker (Books to Watch For: April)
“An enthralling work of literary recovery . . . If you think that academics now only write for each other, this book will come as a revelation . . . In his acknowledgments, Gura writes that his book was partly inspired by Edmund Wilson’s magisterial Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. Future scholars will be comparably inspired by Truth’s Ragged Edge.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post“Gura provides a long-awaited new map of American fiction.”—The American Scholar“Philip F. Gura has written the most ambitious, most comprehensive study ever attempted of American fiction from its beginnings to 1868. You will find here some novelists you’ve never heard of alongside old friends such as Cooper, Hawthorne, and Melville. By looking at novels thematically, and in the light of American religious history, Gura has produced a profoundly new kind of literary history, one linked beyond dispute to American theological concerns and American religious life. This book will change the way you look at the American novel. A grand achievement.” —Robert D. Richardson, Bancroft Prize–winning author of William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism“Updated literary history at its very best. By assimilating recent rediscoveries of Afro-American and women’s fictions—and adding new insights and new titles of his own—Philip F. Gura has given us the only comprehensive study of the tumultuous, ever-growing marketplace of the early American novel. He shows us how the ‘sentimental’ tradition of women’s domestic fiction became an unexpected vehicle for conveying spiritual and social heresy.”—John McWilliams, College Professor, Middlebury College“Most modern-day readers wander into early American fiction as if it were the back lot of an old movie studio—full of strangely garbed frontiersmen ready for wilderness adventure. Truth’s Ragged Edge brilliantly brings us face-to-face with dozens of fictional characters much more like us—urban, introspective, worried about moral survival in a money-grubbing society. Philip F. Gura’s book has created a new genealogy of American anxiety.”—Richard Rabinowitz, President, American History Workshop“Philip F. Gura’s capacious book offers insightful literary analyses, deft book summaries, and concise biographies of authors that will be of great use to those interested in American fiction during its formative period.”—David S. Reynolds, award-winning author of Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography“Truth’s Ragged Edge will allow you to reengage the classic novelists of the nineteenth century and to discover the long-neglected ones as well. Philip F. Gura packs a wealth of information about the early American novel into this illuminating study, and he writes movingly about novelists wrestling with the ideals and realities of democratic liberalism.”—Robert S. Levine, General Editor, The Norton Anthology of American Literature
“Those who agree with Hemingway’s claim that Huckleberry Finn created all modern American fiction will find this study of our pre-Twain literary tradition illuminating . . . Gura tempers this book’s thrill of discovery over forgotten voices and stories with a still-relevant warning that the fearless individualism of American fiction can come dangerously close to solipsism.”—Publishers Weekly
Philip F. Gura is the William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he holds appointments in English, American studies, and religious studies. He is the author or editor of ten books of American cultural history.