Front cover image for Facing Facts

Facing Facts

"A true poem, " Walt Whitman proclaimed in 1852, "is the daily newspaper"--And American culture was never the same again. Like a blast of cold air in a stuffy drawing room, Whitman's campaign to give artistic representation to gritty reality shocked the genteel artistic elite of the 1850s; but the brassy poet's efforts helped generate a revolution in American life and thought. Four decades later, Willa Cather could declare that the "public demands realism, and they will have it." In Facing Facts, David Shi provides the most comprehensive history to date of the rise of realism in American culture. He vividly captures the character and sweep of this all-encompassing movement-ranging from Winslow Homer to the rise of the Ash Can school, from Whitman to Henry James to Theodore Dreiser. He begins with a look at the idealist atmosphere of the antebellum years, when otherwordly themes were considered the only fit subject for art (Hawthorne wrote that "the grosser life is a dream, and the spiritual life is a reality").; Whitman's assault on these standards coincided with sweeping changes in American society: the bloody Civil War, the aggressive advance of a modern scientific spirit, the popularity of photography, the expansion of cities, capitalism, and the middle class-all worked to shake the foundations of genteel idealism and sentimental romanticism. Both artists and the public developed an ever-expanding appetite for hard facts, and for art that accurately depicted them. As Shi proceeds through the nineteenth century, he traces the realist revolution in each major area of arts and letters, combining an astute analysis of the movement's essential themes with incisive portraits of its leading practitioners. Here we see Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., shaken to stern realism by the horrors of the Civil War; the influence of Walt Whitman on painter Thomas
eBook, English, 1996
New ed
Oxford University Press, New York, 1996