I've read the first few essays in Love and Death in the American Novel, and now I will wholly endorse the notion that I should have got on the Fiedler wagon earlier. The breadth of knowledge (far beyond literature) and synthesis thereof is simply incredible . . . talk about someone who sounds like he's read everything and knows just how to put it into a cohesive framework. This is the kind of oracular voice that I think we all wish James Wood (who, admittedly, seems to have read everything) was.
Or, to put this all another way, I seem to be underlining an unprecedentedly high amount of my copy of Fiedler. Seriously; the footnotes in this book sound a lot more interesting and promising than a lot of abstracts I've read.
Usual caveats about a great text's resistance to quoting aside, I've got to pass along this:
The American writer inhabits a country at once the dream of Europe and a fact of history . . .
And then at greater length:
A recurrent problem of our [American] fiction has been the need of our novelists to find a mode of projecting their conflicts which would contain all the dusky horror of gothic romance and yet be palatable to discriminating readers, palatable first of all to themselves.
Such a mode can, of course, not be subsumed among any of those called "realism." Our fiction is essentially and at its best non-realistic, even anti-realistic; long before symbolisme had been invented in France and exported to America, there was a full-fledged native tradition of symbolism. That tradition was born of the profound contradictions of our national lise and sustained by the inheritance from Puritanism of a "typical" (even allegorical) way of regarding the sensible world–not as an ultimate reality but as a system of signs to be deciphered . . .