Monday, July 18, 2011

The Century Project: Fiction, 1900-1999, Pt. 2: The 1910s

--by Hanje Richards

The Century Project: Part 2, Fiction from the 1910s

The Copper Queen Library is the oldest continuously-operating public library in Arizona. I often tell visitors this fact, and it got me thinking… We have intentionally kept a lot of old books here in our lovely old building. We have a lot of books that were published in the early years of the 1900s, as well as mid-century books and titles all the way to the end of the century still on our shelves.

Our blogs and displays often focus on the new and contemporary, but what about all the history that is contained in the books on our shelves as well as in this wonderful 100+ year old building?

To create the lists of book featured in the Century Project, I used a list called Most Influential Fiction of the 20th Century, selected by librarians and published in the November 15, 1998 issue of Library Journal, as well as 100 Most Influential Books of the Century and Books That Didn’t Quite Make It, both compiled by the Boston Public Library.I compared these lists with titles on the shelves of The Copper Queen Library and look forward to sharing what I discovered. Here is Part 2, which features some of the books in our collection that were published between 1910-1919 and have become classics.

Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton) – This novel is set in a fictional New England town of Starkfield, where an unnamed narrator tells the story of his encounter with Ethan Frome, a man with dreams and desires that end in an ironic turn of events. The narrator tells the story based on an account from observations at Frome's house when he had to stay there during a winter storm.

The Good Soldier (Ford Maddox Ford) – Handsome, wealthy, and a veteran of service in India, Captain Edward Ashburnham appears to be the ideal “good soldier” and the embodiment of English upper-class virtues. But for Ford, he also represents the corruption at society’s core. Beneath Ashburnham’s charming, polished exterior lurks a soul well-versed in the arts of deception, hypocrisy, and betrayal. Throughout the nine years of his friendship with an equally privileged American, John Dowell, Ashburnham has been having an affair with Dowell’s wife, Florence. Unlike Dowell, Ashburnham’s own wife, Leonora, is well aware of it...

My Antonia (Willa Cather) – First published 1918, this novel, the final book of her "prairie trilogy" (the companion volumes being O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark) is considered one Cather’s greatest novels. The narrator, Jim Burden, arrives in the fictional town of Black Hawk, Nebraska, on the same train as the Shimerdas, when he goes to live with his grandparents after his parents have died. Jim develops strong feelings for Ántonia, something between a crush and a filial bond, and the reader views Ántonia's life, including its attendant struggles and triumphs, through that lens.

O Pioneers! (Willa Cather) – Here, Cather tells the story of the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants in the farm country near the fictional town of Hanover, Nebraska, at the turn of the 20th century. The main character, Alexandra Bergson, inherits the family farmland when her father dies, and she devotes her life to making the farm a viable enterprise at a time when other immigrant families are giving up and leaving the prairie. The novel is also concerned with two romantic relationships, one between Alexandra and family friend Carl Linstrum and another between Alexandra's brother Emil and the married Marie Shabata. The book is number 83 on the American Library Association's list of “most frequently banned or challenged books.”

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce) – This semi-autobiographical novel was first serialized in The Egoist from 1914 to 1915 and published first in book format during 1916. The story describes the formative years of the life of Stephen Dedalus, a fictional alter ego of Joyce and an allusion to the consummate craftsman of Greek mythology, Daedalus. Joyce's novel traces the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irish conventions with which he has been raised. He finally goes abroad to pursue his ambitions as an artist. The work is an early example of some of Joyce's modernist techniques that would later be represented in a more developed manner by Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. The novel, which has had a "huge influence on novelists across the world," was ranked by Modern Library as "the third greatest English-language novel of the 20th century."

Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust) – This novel in seven volumes is Proust’s most prominent work. It is popularly known for its considerable length and the notion of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the "episode of the madeleine." The complete story contains nearly 1.5 million words and is one of the longest novels in world literature. The novel has had great influence on twentieth-century literature, whether because writers have sought to emulate it or attempted to parody and discredit some of its traits. Proust explores the themes of time, space, and memory, but the novel is above all a condensation of innumerable literary, structural, stylistic, and thematic possibilities.

Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs) – First published in All-Story Magazine in October 1912 and as a book in 1914, this is the first in a series of books about the title character, Tarzan. So popular was the character that Burroughs continued the series into the 1940s with two dozen sequels. The novel tells the story of John Clayton, born in the western coastal jungles of equatorial Africa to a marooned couple from England. Adopted as an infant by the she-ape Kala after his parents die (his father is killed by the savage king ape Kerchak), Clayton is named "Tarzan" ("White Skin" in the ape language) and raised in ignorance of his human heritage.

Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson) – This short story cycle is structured around the life of protagonist George Willard from childhood to his growing independence and ultimate abandonment of Winesburg as a young man. Based loosely on the author's childhood memories of Clyde, Ohio, the book consists of twenty-two stories, each sharing a specific character's past and present struggle to overcome the loneliness and isolation that seems to permeate the town. Stylistically, because of its emphasis on the psychological insights of characters over plot, and plain-spoken prose, Winesburg, Ohio is known as one of the earliest Modern fictional works.