Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination

Werner Sollors

in Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt

Published by University Press of Mississippi

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9781604734164
Published online March 2014 | e-ISBN: 9781621036050 | DOI:
Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination

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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

Chapter.  2602 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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