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Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt$
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Susan Prothro Wright and Ernestine Pickens Glass

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9781604734164

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604734164.001.0001

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Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination

Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination

(p.2) (p.3) Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination
Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt

Werner Sollors

University Press of Mississippi

This chapter addresses Chesnutt’s extraordinary sense of the history that he was living and that lay behind him. His historical imagination, paired with his sense of irony, made him an unusually perceptive witness of his own time. The term “unusual” is used here as the main drift of early African-American literature was not historical. This seems hard to believe, especially at a time when historical fiction has become a dominant genre in African-American writing, with slavery being one of its central themes. However, it appears that from 1853 to 1941, a period during which historical fiction was very popular in the Western world, only one truly historical African-American novel was published: Arna Bontemps’s Black Thunder.

Keywords:   history, historical imagination, sense of irony, perceptive witness, African-American literature, historical fiction

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