Stephen Vincent Benét: National Literature?
I am scheduled to give a talk of 15 to 20 minutes about "literature and the national community" on September 26th, so I'm thinking about some of the influences of American literature on my own writing, for example, a story about the devil by Stephen Vincent Benét. In Jackson J. Benson's book Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work, we find a remark about Benét:
Benet (author of John Brown's Body, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Listen to the People) was interested in native materials and the importance of bringing forth (as Emerson had advocated a century earlier) a uniquely national literature divorced from the influences of Europe. (Benson, pages 64-65)The so-called "influences of Europe" alludes to a long-held American belief that Europe was corrupt and corrupting. The story titled "The Devil and Daniel Webster" was about powerful patriotism, a strong love of country, so strong that it could even defeat the devil. Of this powerful patriotism, John Griffith - writing the entry on "Stephen Vincent Benét, 1898–1943" for The Poetry Foundation - informs us:
From his earliest years, Benét developed a taste for romantic, melodramatic, and heroic fiction and poetry, a sympathetic observer's interest in America's regional cultures, and an old-fashioned devotion to domestic and patriotic values[,] . . . . his patriotic love of the United States . . . [stemming from his appreciation of America's] vital complex of culturally distinct regions and heritages."I'll have to give this issue a lot more thought, perhaps by looking back at Emerson's call for a national literature . . .