Local color

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Term applied to fiction or verse which emphasizes its setting, being concerned with the character of a district or of an era, as marked by its customs, dialect, costumes, landscape, or other peculiarities that have escaped standardizing cultural influences. The earliest American writing reflects its locale, as all literature must, but the local-color movement came into particular prominence in the U.S. after the Civil War, perhaps as an attempt to recapture the glamour of a past era, or to portray the sections of the reunited county one to the other. Specifically, American influences upon those authors known as local-color writers may be found in Down East humor and in the frontier tradition of tall tales. Other influences include the writings of Irving, the English tradition of Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Bulwer-Lytton, and the French romantic tradition of couleur locale represented by Hugo, Mérimée, and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. According to Edward Eggleston, another influence was the national and racial bias of the historical works of Taine, which specifically impelled him to a closer observation of his own region. In local-color literature one finds the dual influence of romanticism and realism, since the author frequently looks away from ordinary life to distant lands, strange customs, or exotic scenes, but retains through minute detail a sense of fidelity and accuracy of description. Harte's “The Luck of Roaring Camp” (1868) is usually considered the first local-color story. The most distinguished writing engendered by the movement was in the form of the short story, whose development was thus deeply affected. Besides Harte, the local-color school produced such prominent authors as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sara Orne Jewett, Mary W. Freeman, Rose Terry Cooke, and R. E. Robinson in New England; T. N. Page in Virginia; J. C. Harris in Georgia; G. W. Cable and Kate Chopin in Louisiana; Mary N. Murfree and John Fox in Tennessee and Kentucky; John Hay in Illinois; Riley and the Egglestons in Indiana; Clemens in California and on the Mississippi; E. W. Howe, Garland, and Zona Gale in the Middle West; and R. H. Davis, H. C. Bunner, Brander Matthews, and O. Henry in New York City. A broader concept of sectional differences lies behind regionalism.

Subjects: Literature.

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