Landscape and technique : the background and development of the North American prairie novel

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Thacker, Robert.
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Historically ill-equipped to comprehend the prairie landscape, European man came to understand its unique topography only gradually. This study traces the transformation of the prairie from unknown land into familiar landscape, beginning with an examination of the major explorers' journals and travelers' accounts. Those who first used the landscape as artistic setting were painters and illustators, and their work is treated here in order to provide an analogue for the primary focus -- prose fiction -- which also exhibits a confrontation between artistic convention and the prairie landscape. Turning to the literature, this study then traces the incorporation of the landscape into the North American literary tradition; works such as Cooper's The Prairie, Irving's A Tour on the Prairies, Parkman's The Oregon Trail and Melville's Moby-Dick illustrate the way in which topography was transformed into setting... This study departs from previous criticism in that its scope is biocultural: Canadian examples are considered equally with American ones. Similarly, this is the first study of North American prairie fiction to treat the development of landscape technique from first exploration to the present.