May 29, 2004

Our Literary Heritage:
A Pictorial History of the Writer in America

Van Wyck Brooks and Otto L. Bettman

Trash Heap of History – “Our Literary Heritage” was published three years before I was born and reads like ancient history, replete with bigoted interpretations and purple prose. “Negro Folklore Charms the Nation,” one chapter is titled, with a subtitle stating that it “took the genius” of a white man to “make the Southern folk-tale immortal.” Compounding the overt racism is a contrived yearning for the young, male writers. The authors describe the poet Sidney Lanier as “pale, dark, slender, nervous and eager.” Nathaniel Hawthorne: “He had a massive head. His eyes were black and brilliant. Picturesque, he appeared vaguely foreign.” Reading all of this is an awful task; the only pleasure comes in the final disposing of the book.

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