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Outlines of English and American Literature
Problem Novels
by Long, William J.

Aside from the realistic movement, our recent fiction is like a river flowing sluggishly over hidden bowlders: the surface is so broken by whirlpools, eddies and aimless flotsam that it is difficult to determine the main current. Here our attention is attracted by clever stories of "society in the making," there by somber problem-novels dealing with city slums, lonely farms, department stores, political rings, business corruption, religious creeds, social injustice,--with every conceivable matter that can furnish a novelist not with a story but with a cry for reform. The propaganda novel is evidently a favorite in America; but whether it has any real influence in reforming abuses, as the novels of Dickens led to better schools and prisons in England, is yet to be determined.

Occasionally appears a reform novel great enough to make us forget the reform, such as Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona (1884). This famous story began as an attempt to plead the cause of the oppressed Indian, to do for him what Uncle Tom's Cabin was supposed to have done for the negro; it ended in an idyllic story so well told that readers forgot to cry, "Lo, the poor Indian," as the author intended. At the present time Ramona is not classed with the problem-novels but with the most readable of American romances.


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