New Books: American Snobs: Transatlantic Novelists, Liberal Culture and the Genteel Tradition by Emily Coit

American Snobs: Transatlantic Novelists, Liberal Culture and the Genteel Tradition by Emily Coit

Arguing that Henry Adams, Henry James, and Edith Wharton articulated their political thought in response to the liberalism that reigned in Boston and, more specifically, at Harvard University, American Snobs shows how each of these authors interrogated that liberalism’s arguments for education, democracy and the political duties of the cultivated elite. Coit shows that the works of these authors contributed to a realist critique of a liberal New England idealism that fed into the narrative about ‘the genteel tradition’, which shaped the study of US literature during the twentieth century. Reading texts such as The Valley of Decision and French Ways and Their Meaning, chapters on Wharton bring fresh attention to her exchanges with Harvard professors Charles Eliot Norton and Barrett Wendell. By locating Wharton in the history of literary studies in the US, American Snobs offers new perspectives on her thinking about education, race, and democracy.

This book breathes new life into the study of a set of ideas and authors, all of which are rich in their own right and illuminating for what they tell us about the period. Coit’s easy, writerly hand, her skilled close readings and her fluid movement between political context, literary history and detailed analysis are impressive.

– Lloyd Pratt, University of Oxford https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-american-snobs.html