Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State.
New York: Viking, 1938.
 



 

Chapter Three: 

"Patchwork Quilt of These United States": 
The Rhetoric of Cultural Enthusiasm in Contemporary Reviews of the American Guides

 






Wordage, Poundage, Yardage: Inventing and Operating the American Baedeker Machine


Designing a Landscape of Words: Genre Negotiations, Composition Policies, and Stylistic Features of the Guides


Patchwork Quilt of These United States: The Rhetoric of Cultural Enthusiasm in Contemporary Reviews of the American Guides


Un-American Guides and Pink Baedekers: The Red Scare of the Federal Writers' Project


A Fabricated Nation: The Politics of Democratic National Portraiture


Vintage Snapshots from Alabama to Wyoming: Reflections of a Cultural Nation in State Profiles


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

     

Chapter three, "'Patchwork Quilt of These United States': The Rhetoric of Cultural Enthusiasm in Contemporary Reviews of the American Guides" chronicles the literary reception history of the American Guides during the 1930s and early 1940s. Once literary critics overcame their initial inhibitions (often of a political nature) and their shock over the guides' formal indecisiveness and sheer bulk, they were enamored by their accomplishment and lent voice to their appreciation in numerous reviews in the nation's leading publications. 

The argument of this chapter is based largely on in-depth articles about the American Guides published in the New Republic, the Nation, the New York Herald Tribune books section, and others. (Short reviews of individual guides are mentioned in chapter six with the profile of the respective state guide.) I aim to document with this chapter a forgotten episode in American cultural history. What the reviews that I discuss in this chapter bring to the fore is a sense of overwhelming fascination with the American Guides that reigned at the time and that fostered enthusiastic expectations for their future uses, both as literature and as historical sources. 

The appearance of the American Guides was considered a cultural landmark and a validation of America as a cultural nation. The writers featured in this chapter, among them Stephen Vincent Benét, Robert Cantwell, and Alfred Kazin, regarded the guides as a revolutionary accomplishment of American literature-an assessment that is all but forgotten today. I argue that the critics' readiness to embrace the guides and their urgent appropriation of the guides for an American cultural renaissance correspond to the nation's need for self-definition and a strengthening of its beleaguered character.

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