American Classics: Evolutionary Perspectives

American Classics: Evolutionary Perspectives

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Judith P. Saunders

Series: Evolution, Cognition, and the Arts
ISBN: 9781618117656 (hardcover) / 9781618117663 (paperback)
Pages: 302 pp.
Publication Date: July 2018

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The inaugural book in ASP's new Evolution, Cognition, and the Arts series, this collection of essays examines selected works in the American literary tradition from an evolutionary perspective. Using an interdisciplinary framework to pose new questions about long admired, much discussed texts, the collection as a whole provides an introduction to Darwinian literary critical methodology. Individual essays feature a variety of figures—Benjamin Franklin to Billy Collins—targeting fitness-related issues ranging from sexual strategies and parental investment to cheating and deception. Attention is paid to the physical and social environments in which fictional characters are placed, including the influence of cultural–historical conditions on resource acquisition, status-building, competition, and reciprocity. Discussion throughout the volume makes connections to existing secondary comment, suggesting how Darwinian scrutiny can generate unexpected insights into long familiar works.

Judith P. Saunders is Professor of English at Marist College in New York State. She is the author of The Poetry of Charles Tomlinson: Border Lines and Reading Edith Wharton through a Darwinian Lens: Evolutionary Biological Issues in Her Fiction.

Judith Saunders’s book shows just how good evolutionary literary criticism can be. She convincingly demonstrates that an evolutionary critic can generate new insights about literary works to which many generations of scholars have already devoted critical attention. Moreover, she unites a fine literary sensibility with special gifts for writing forceful and evocative prose. Her book belongs to that very small set of interpretive critical works that give specifically literary pleasure in their own right.
— Joseph Carroll, Curators' Professor of English, University of Missouri—St. Louis, editor in chief of Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture

Table of Contents


1. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: The Story of a Successful Social Animal
2. Nepotism in Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”
3. Biophilia in Thoreau’s Walden
4. Bateman’s Principle in “Song of Myself”: Whitman Celebrates Male Ardency
5. Maladaptive Behavior and Auctorial Design: Huck Finn’s Pap
6. Hell’s Fury: Female Mate-Retention Strategies in Wharton’s “Pomegranate Seed and Ethan Frome
7. Male Reproductive Strategies in Sherwood Anderson’s “The Untold Lie”
8. The Great Gatsby: An Unusual Case of Mate-Poaching
9. Female Sexual Strategies in the Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay
10. Philosophy and Fitness: Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and The Sun Also Rises
11. Paternal Confidence in Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Gilded Six-Bits”
12. The Role of the Arts in Male Courtship Display: Billy Collins’s “Serenade”