Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Anglo-American Literature Presentation, Part I

The time has finally come to make my presentation on Anglo-American literature. As I mentioned before, I have chosen to talk about literature relating to the American abroad. I have come to a few conclusions that I will now share:

First, there is a long tradition of literature about the American abroad. In the nineteenth century, authors such as Henry James (The American), Edith Wharton (The Buccaneers), and Mark Twain (The Innocents Abroad) wrote on the topic.

Even in the 1870s, Americans were far from popular abroad. Note this excerpt from the London Saturday Review of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, October 10, 1870:

"Every traveler on the continent has met the American tourist and formed some opinion of his merits . . . They are the people who do Europe in six weeks . . . They are gloriously ignorant of every language but their own, supremely contemptuous of every country that had no interest in the Declaration of Independence and occasionally, it must be admitted, as offensive as the worst kind of Cockney tourist. . . . The American is generally the noisier and more actively disagreeable . . . He is vulgar, and even ostentatiously and atrociously vulgar, but the vulgarity is mixed with a real shrewdness which rescues it from simple insipidity. We laugh at him, and we would rather not have too much of his company, but we do not feel altogether safe in despising him."

In general, in the literature about Americans abroad, there is

  • A contempt of Americans by the local population;
  • The suggestion that Americans are good hearted yet bumbling socially and notoriously “close minded”;
  • An underlying sense of American cultural imperialism. (By cultural imperialism, I mean a powerful nation dominating indigenous cultures and languages with its own culture and language.)

If this was the attitude towards Americans abroad in nineteenth-century literature, what is the attitude in contemporary literature? (See Part II)

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