Jehlen, Myra

Jehlen, Myra

  • Published Date: 2009

Myra Jehlen
Princeton University Press, 2009

altFiction, far from being the opposite of truth, is wholly bent on finding it out, and writing novels is a way to know the real world as objectively as possible. In Five Fictions in Search of Truth, Professor Myra Jehlen develops this idea through readings of works by Flaubert, James, and Nabokov. She invokes Proust's famous search for lost memory as the exemplary literary process, which strives, whatever its materials, for a true knowledge. In SalammbĂ´, Flaubert digs up Carthage; in The Ambassadors, James plumbs the examined life and touches at its limits; while in Lolita, Nabokov traces a search for truth that becomes a trespass.

In these readings, form and style emerge as fiction's means for taking hold of reality, which is to say that they are as epistemological as they are aesthetic, each one emerging by way of the other. The aesthetic aspects of a literary work are just so many instruments for exploring a subject, and the beauty and pleasure of a work confirm the validity of its account of the world. For Flaubert, famously, a beautiful sentence was proven true by its beauty. James and Nabokov wrote on the same assumption--that form and style were at once the origin and the confirmation of a work's truth.

In Five Fictions in Search of Truth, Professor Jehlen shows, moreover, that fiction's findings are not only about the world but immanent within it. Literature works concretely, through this form, that style, this image, that word, seeking a truth that is equally concrete. Writers write--and readers read--to discover an incarnate, secular knowledge, and in doing so they enact a basic concurrence between literature and science.

The English Literatures of America: 1500-1800

  • Published Date: 1996

Myra Jehlen (Co-Authored with Michael Warner)
Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1996

altThe English Literatures of America redefines colonial American literatures, sweeping from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to the West Indies and Guiana. The book begins with the first colonization of the Americas and stretches beyond the Revolution to the early national period. Many texts are collected here for the first time; others are recognized masterpieces of the canon--both British and American--that can now be read in their Atlantic context. By emphasizing the culture of empire and by representing a transatlantic dialogue, The English Literatures of America allows a new way to understand colonial literature both in the United States and abroad.

American Incarnation:: The Individual, the Nation, and the Continent

  • Published Date: 1986

Myra Jehlen
Harvard University Press, 1986

altIn exploring the origins and character of the American liberal tradition, Professor Myra Jehlen begins with the proposition that the decisive factor that shaped the European settlers' idea of "America" or the "American" was material rather than conceptual--it was the physical fact of the land. European settlers came to a continent on which they had no history, bringing the ideology of liberal individualism, which they projected onto the land itself. They believed the continent proclaimed that individuals were born in nature and freely made their own society. An insurgent ideology in Europe, this idea worked in America paradoxically to empower the individual and to restrict social change. 

Professor Jehlen sketches the evolution of the concept of incarnation through comparisons of American and European eighteenth-century naturalist writings, particularly Emerson's Nature. She then explores the way incarnation functions ideologically--to both enable and curtail action--in the writing of fiction. Her examination of Hawthorne and Melville shows how the myth of the New World both licensed and limited American writers who set out to create their own worlds in fiction. She examines conflicts between the exigencies of narrative form and the imperatives of ideology in the writings of Franklin, Jefferson, Emerson, and others. Jehlen concludes with a speculation on the implication of this original construction of "America" for the United States today, when such imperial concepts have been called into question.

Readings at the Edge of Literature

  • Published Date: 2002

Myra Jehlen
University of Chicago Press, 2002

altProfessor Myra Jehlen's aim in this book of essays is to read for what she calls the edge of literature: the point at which writing seems unable to say more, which is also, for her, the threshold of the real. It is here, she argues, that the central paradoxes of the American project become clear--self-reliance and responsibility, universal equality and the pursuit of empire, writing from the heart and representing shared values and ideas. Developing these paradoxes to their utmost tension, American writers often produce penetrating critiques of American society without puncturing its basic myths. For instance, Mark Twain's Puddn'head Wilson begins as a slashing satire of racism, only to conclude by demonstrating that even an invisible portion of black blood can make a man a murderer.

Throughout these essays, Professor Jehlen demonstrates the crucial role that the process of writing itself plays in unfolding these paradoxes, whether in the form of novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Virginia Woolf; the histories of Captain John Smith; or even a work of architecture, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.