Fred Lewis Pattee, long regarded as the father of American literary study, also wrote fiction. Originally published in 1905 by Henry Holt, The House of the Black Ring was Pattee’s second novel—a local-color romance set in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. The book’s plot is driven by family feud, forbidden love, and a touch of the supernatural. This new edition makes this novel accessible to new generations of modern-day readers. General readers will find in The House of the Black Ring a thriller that preserves details of rural life and language during the late nineteenth century. Scholars will read it as an expression of cultural anxiety and change in the decades after the Civil War.
An introduction by poet and essayist Julia Spicher Kasdorf situates the novel within the context of social and literary history, as well as Pattee’s own biography, and provides a compelling argument for its importance, not only as a literary artifact or record of local customs, but also as a reflection of Pattee’s own story intertwined with the history of Penn State at the turn of the twentieth century. Joshua Brown draws on his expertise in Pennsylvania German ethno-linguistics to interpret the dialect writing and to give readers a clearer view of the customs and regionalisms depicted in the book.
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Fred Lewis Pattee was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the Pennsylvania State College (now the Pennsylvania State University). Pattee is regarded as the first “Professor of American Literature,” having published the groundbreaking works “Is There an American Literature?” in 1896 and A History of American Literature Since 1870 in 1915.
Julia Spicher Kasdorf is Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State. In 2009 Penn State Press released a paperback edition of her collection of essays, The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life.
Joshua R. Brown is Assistant Professor of German at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.Review:
“This book is a gift to those interested in the history of Penn State and the rich cultures that surround it. Julia Spicher Kasdorf does a brilliant job of placing Fred Lewis Pattee and his neglected novel within their historical moment, and her love of this labor shines bright from start to finish.”
—Scott Herring, Indiana University, Bloomington
“Like the Appalachian writer Mary Noailles Murfree, Fred Lewis Pattee locates his novel in a landscape both recognizable and mysterious; like other local-color and regionalist writers at the turn of the twentieth century, Pattee crafts a prose that contrasts his narrator’s standard English with his characters’ Pennsylvanian and Appalachian dialect. At the same time, his heroine adds ‘New Woman’ determination, horsemanship, and a touch of modernity to regional fiction. Readers who like a mystery—and then appreciate the complexity of plot ties unraveled at the end—will find The House of the Black Ring a real page-turner. Those with additional knowledge of Pattee’s role in the founding and definition of ‘American literature’ will enjoy this example of the influential historian’s imagination.”
—Marjorie Pryse, University at Albany, SUNY
“A boyhood gift from my father (Pennsylvania State College Class of 1910), who had studied under Professor Pattee, The House of the Black Ring spurred my own lifelong fascination with Pennsylvania Dutch culture. And it encouraged my ethnographic interest in my own homeland, Central Pennsylvania. Larded with dialect locutions familiar from my Centre County kinfolk’s talk, and with its sensational episodes of powwowing and witchcraft, it fleshed out neglected aspects of Pennsylvania’s rich folklife, even in its fictional form. The introduction capably sets Pattee in the then-new field of American literary scholarship and cites his book as a pioneering example of the turn-of-the-century local-color fiction about Pennsylvania. And worth the price of the book is Pattee’s opening sentence—ascribing the Seven Mountains to the refuse left over by the Great Architect after Creation!”
—Don Yoder, University of Pennsylvania
“The House of the Black Ring is both a tribute to and an attempt to fully grasp the affective power of ‘local color,’ once categorized by Fred Lewis Pattee and his peers as a ‘minor’ genre of American fiction. Pattee, a New England transplant to Pennsylvania, was among the first scholars to recognize that American literature was a field of its own. As a critic and teacher, he established categories and taxonomies that would influence generations of American literary historians. This novel, however, reveals a different side of his work, for in it Pattee sought to fully comprehend the interior work of regional fiction, a genre that charted how people understood where they belonged, explored the shape of affective and historical titles to place, and created narratives about who could join local communities. Writing as a critic in a genre that formed a part of his synthesis of American literature, as a professor about people who were not part of the educated class, and as a New Englander about rural Pennsylvania, Pattee both tested the strength of regional writing and felt his way through its limits and promise as the broker of distinctive ways of being in and of a place.”
—Stephanie Foote, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“Editors Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Joshua Brown not only reproduce a highly entertaining regional story in The House of the Black Ring but also contribute to vital local color and Pennsylvania German studies. Fred Lewis Pattee’s ‘haunting’ style and romantic viewpoint compare interestingly with the work of other writers of Pennsylvania Dutch local color, such as Helen Riemensnyder Martin and Elsie Singmaster.
Pattee’s novel questions the meaning of ‘home’ among turn-of-the-century America’s expanding multicultural population. As an ‘outlander’—a native New Englander living among the Pennsylvania Dutch—Pattee’s personal sense of otherness adds a poignant twist to his portrayal of his ethnic neighbors. Fascinatingly, the over one-hundred-year-old story voices a topic relevant to American society today: the search for ‘belonging’ among a diverse and dynamic people.”
—Susan Colestock Hill, author of Heart Language: Elsie Singmaster and Her Pennsylvania German Writings
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