How is British fiction distinct from American fiction?

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Fiction is defined as “literature written in prose that describes fictitious events occurring in the lives of the characters involved.” It is a fictional account of occurrences involving characters. Fictions are literary works that are based on the author’s imagination rather than facts. Certain works of fiction are more than just stories because they have hidden meanings that address social, political, or religious concerns. Fiction examples include Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Authors of fiction are interested in more than just creating stories. They want to educate people, entertain them, provide them with a means to escape from life’s hardships, give them hope by demonstrating that the world can be different, and warn them about their faults. Fiction broadens our worldview, experience, and knowledge. Writers can use fiction to express their political, social, and religious beliefs. It is not only a means for pointing out flaws and follies in a society or nation, but it also provides solutions to such flaws.

British literary traditions may be traced back to the early 18th century, based on the definition of fiction given above. The publication of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in 1719 marked the emergence of fiction as a distinct literary form in British literature. This was the first real fictional description of an individual’s experiences written in prose, but none of them met the criteria of being true fiction before Daniel Defoe. William Brown’s ‘The Power of Sympathy’ is believed to be the first authentic American book, which tells the narrative of Thomas Harrington, a young man who falls in love with a woman named Harriot, despite his father’s disapproval.

To suggest that British literature is superior to American fiction or vice versa would be an incorrect evaluation of the quality of the work based on the country of the authors. Authors from both nations have created works of exceptional calibre and value. Although British fictional traditions are older than American ones, the United Kingdom has generated the most fictitious works due to its big pool of authors and the international attention their work has garnered. However, American authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, and Harper Lee have produced fiction that is worth reading.

Upon closer inspection, the fictions of the two countries differ in several ways.

Several of these distinctions are listed below.

When comparing books written by British and American authors, linguistic differences might be observed. British authors are likely to adopt a vocabulary-rich form of Classical British English. In contrast, American authors’ language is contemporary and easier. The complicated terminology and language used in British fiction make it difficult to comprehend. In contrast, American authors typically utilise language that is easily understood.

There are differences not just in the use of language but also in the usage of grammar between the authors of the two nations. American and British authors’ works have distinct language characteristics. As seen by the usage of terms such as favour, colour, etc., American fiction writers reduce the length of some words by omitting particular alphabets. Additionally, Americans prefer to finish some terms with -iz rather than -is, as do British authors. Examples include analyze, summarize etc.

Similarly, British authors prefer to utilise more passive constructs in their narratives than their American counterparts, who favour active voices.

People, events, and places are typically depicted in minute detail by British fiction authors. The experience of reading British literature makes the reader feel like they are a part of the plot. The comprehensive descriptions offer the audience a sense of connection to the tale. They readily connect with the protagonists and other characters.

American authors and their British counterparts differ in style and subject matter. The British authors wrote mostly on British ideas, morals, romances, culture, and mannerisms, whereas the American authors focused on puritanical ideals, revolutionary and patriotic ideals, and social difficulties.

The works of British authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen deal with class-related concerns and the attitudes and conduct of the nobility. Henry Fielding’s masterwork Tom Jones is a microcosm of the British countryside at the time. It criticises all aspects of British culture, including traditional morality, double standards, highway robbers, nobility, etc.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens highlights the disparity between the elite and lower classes of British society, as well as the ascent of the novel’s protagonist, Pip. It is a realistic tale that depicts contemporary British society and its inhabitants. The corruption of the criminal justice system is represented vividly in “Abel Magwitch”. This tale encompasses all aspects of British culture and society, from romance to crime.

E.M. Foster’s Howards End describes the contemporary class battle and the dispute between British socialists and capitalists. Howards End is an exploration of the social, economic, and philosophical forces at work in early twentieth-century England through the lives of three families: the Schlegel family, who represent the ideological, socialist, and intellectual upper class; the Wilcox family, who represent the conventional innovative capitalists and conventional nobility; and the Bast family, who believe in hard work.

Before their country’s freedom, American authors focused on preaching puritanical principles, morals, and religion. When patriotic fervour seized the nation, and they desired a divorce from their home country, their attention switched to topics such as patriotism, revolt, and nationalism. American fiction also included historical events such as the American Revolution, the American Civil War, the Great Depression, and the world wars. Numerous works of fiction have been written about the hardship of people of colour during slavery and the bigotry they endured subsequently. After the emergence of the feminist movement in the United States, feminist literature depicting the oppression of women and their battle against a male-dominated power structure also rose to prominence.

As stated above, American authors have utilised fiction extensively to explore topics such as global wars, disillusionment with the superficial development of their country after the conflict, and slavery. In his fictional masterpieces A Big Two-Hearted River, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway demonstrates his creative talent by describing the devastation caused by the first global war. Being a participant in the war, he felt that fiction was the greatest way to portray his views about the conflict and its aftermath. The fictional works of William Faulkner, such as Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury, provide insight into post-Civil War American culture. These novels illustrate the hardship and decline of the Southern aristocracy following the conclusion of the Civil War. Beloved by Tonny Morrison is an impassioned critique of the operation of slavery before and after its official abolition.

It is frequently accused of pessimism, as American literature is far more realistic than British fiction. From the period of the Civil War to the end of the century, realism began to appear in American fiction. Rebecca Harding Davis, Henry James, and Mark Twain, among others, committed their talents to craft fiction that accurately portrayed American life in a variety of circumstances. Multiple changes, such as the strengthening of democracy, the increase in literacy, the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the increase in population, and the rise of the middle class, occurred after the American Civil War, creating a fertile environment for literary realism as people sought to comprehend these social, cultural, and political changes.

Short stories as a form of fiction emerged in the United States when authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, etc., made excellent use of their talent to produce frightening, terrifying, piercing, and amusing tales. The English readers of the time were more interested in the works of literary giants like Charles Dickens. Edgar Allan Poe is regarded as the originator of contemporary short stories and an important figure in American Romanticism. He created detective fiction. He revitalised and rediscovered the genre by blending horror and romantic aspects. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a well-known dark romanticist, penned several short stories with recurring themes of human frailty and concealed faults. He felt that humans were immoral by nature, which led to their self-destruction. The path to hell for him is paved with good intentions.

American authors of fiction have a greater focus on people and stories, whilst British authors appear to prioritise humour. They give ideas and aesthetics precedence over characters and narratives.

Nature appears more frequently in American fiction than in British fiction. For American novelists such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, nature is not an analgesic that relieves bodily and emotional agony. For him, nature is not a refuge where individuals may seek refuge from the world’s ills. Nature is frightening to him because it signifies uncharted seas and uncharted areas where anything might occur.

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