This summer Time magazine put Jonathan Franzen on its cover. “Great American Novelist,” he was called. Lev Grossman helpfully explained:
Grossman does not seem to be sneering at Franzen, although I understand what he means. By
Perhaps Lev Grossman and Time magazine just got tired of waiting. It’s pretty obvious, though, that no one—not Grossman, not Franzen, not Ed Pilkington, the Guardian’s interviewer—has any clear idea what he means by the expression. And no wonder. The expression is difficult to take seriously.
One of the few critics ever to do so was Julian Hawthorne. Although he might have protested with some justice that his father would have had already been given credit for the damn thing if he hadn’t insisted on calling his books “romances,” Hawthorne considered the claims of Henry James and W. D. Howells, who had “done more than all the rest of us to make our literature respectable during the last ten years,” but concluded:
 “Library Table,” Round Table 10 (July 3, 1869): 10. The editors believed that Harriet Beecher Stowe, “before all our other fiction-writers,” would have written it by then.
 Anna B. McMahan, “The New Fiction,” Our Continent 2 (Nov. 22, 1882): 618.
 “Wanted—An American Novel,” Literary World 14 (June 16, 1883): 192.
 Julian Hawthorne, “Agnosticism in American Fiction,” Princeton Review 60 (Jan.–June 1884): 13–15.