Is American Literature the Best Literature of All?

From the Net:

American literature is perhaps the most developed literature in the post-colonial era. Though it owes its origin to British literature, after independence it has gone a long way in establishing its own significance in international forums and conveying the message that American literature is not dwarfed or smothered in any way.

It has rather achieved global acclaim in various fields such as poetry, prose, novels, drama, biographical and autobiographical sketches by a host of eminent literary luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, F Scott-Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Walt Whitman, H.W. Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, E.A. Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, R.W. Emerson and many others.

These literary giants have widened our outlook and broadened our vision by virtue of their copious writings.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by H. B. Stowe, Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, All My Sons by Arthur Miller, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man at the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, etc. are treated as great American classics. To tell the truth, American literature is ever widening and marching forward with long strides to attain perfection.

I suppose I beg to differ. American literature was barely developed at all before Melville and then it was only in the form of Nathaniel Hawthorne. And the novel did not become popular in the US until the early 1900’s. Before that they sold poorly and most people didn’t own a single book other than the Bible. How many great works of US literature were produced between Melville and 1900? Other than Henry James of course. I’m wondering. And no, Howells doesn’t count.

If we look at other literature around the world, we can see that many countries have a literature that goes back far further than American literature, which has barely started by the 1830’s and Hawthorne.

French, German, Russian and British literature were far more developed during this period than US literature was and have an excellent pedigree extending back much further.

Just off the top of my head, without doing any extensive literature, I came up with the following works:

English literature goes all the way back to Beowulf, which is almost written in German. Before that we have King Arthur, The Search for the Holy Grail, Gesta Stephani: Deeds of King Stephen (Acts of Stephen), Pearl Poet’s works, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which is almost unreadable nowadays as it is so so archaic. Then onto Shakespeare and the playwrights, a period that went on for over a century.

Irish literature also goes way back beyond Synge and Lady Gregory so lauded by Yeats to The History of Abbot Ceolfrith, Líadan Tells of Her Love for Cuirithir, The History of Abbot Ceolfrith, and Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel).

We can say the same for the long history of Spanish literature in Spain all the way back to Cervantes and the playwrights.

Italian literature goes all the back to The Decameron and The Divine Comedy. We can go even further back to Roman times and Cicero and Virgil if you want with Latin classics continuing into the modern era with The Carmina Burana.

German literature goes back to Baron von Munchausen and before that to The Ruodlieb.

And of course Greek literature goes back to Homer and The Iliad and The Odyssey and along with the great lyric poets and the playwrights.

Icelandic literature goes all the way back to the Norse sagas, the Hávamál, the Völuspá, and later to the Landnamabok or The Book of Settlements.

In the same vein a sort of Scottish Norse can go back to the Orkneyinga Saga.

In Arabic, we have the Book of a Thousand Nights.

In Persian, the Shahnameh or The Book of Kings, The Ghazals, Rumi, and much before that, the Book of Avesta.

French literature goes back to The Book of Roland, Raoul de Cambrai, and Charlemagne’s Voyage to Jerusalem and Constantinople.

Japanese literature also goes way back to Kagerō Nikki (The Mayfly Diary, The Gossamer Years), The Tale of the Heike, The Japanese No Dramas, Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, and The Tale of the Genji.

Chinese literature also goes way back to Master Incapable: A Medieval Daoist on the Liberation of the Mind, the Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu), and The Yuan plays.

Even Tamil literature goes back to The Eight Anthologies and The Ten Long Poems.

Indian literature goes back to The Lotus Sutra, The Panchatantra, and The Vimalakirti Sutra.

Even places you would never expect like Georgia have ancient classics like The Amiran-Darejaniani.

Finnish literature goes back to The Kalevala.

We can even get creative and call The Mayan Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life literature if we want.

In the 20th Century, Irish, British, French, German, Austrian, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Mexican, and Russian literature had great traditions.

In the last 50 years, Japanese, Chinese, Czech, Hungarian, Korean, Swedish, Brazilian, Peruvian, Argentine, Caribbean, Canadian, Australian, Israeli, Swiss, Belgian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Colombian, Afghan, Palestinian, Egyptian, and South African literature have truly come into their own.

If you can think of any others, folks, please chime in. I’m sure this is not comprehensive.

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