The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism

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The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism offers an ecclectic, comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to the immense cultural impact of the movement that encompassed literature, art, architecture, science, and politics.
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About the author

Joel Myerson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Research Professor at the University of South Carolina. An authority on transcendentalism and textual and bibliographical studies, Professor Myerson has written, edited, co-authored, or co-edited some fifty books. Laura Dassow Walls is John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina. Her most recent book is The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Sandra Harbert Petrulionis is Professor of English and American Studies at Penn State--Altoona. She is the author of To Set This World Right: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau's Concord (Cornell, 2006).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Apr 16, 2010
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Pages
800
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ISBN
9780199716128
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / General
Literary Criticism / Reference
Philosophy / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Sandra Harbert Petrulionis
Walden is one of the most frequently assigned texts in literature classes across the country, and it might seem that little new could be said about such a popular book. But these essays demonstrate that scholarship on Henry David Thoreau continues to break new ground. Emerging new voices join senior scholars in exploring a range of topics: Walden's climb to fame; modes of representation in the text; the relationship between fact and truth; Thoreau and violence; Thoreau and evolutionary theory; the working community created by Thoreau's reading and labor; how women read Walden; and the relationship between politics, nature writing, and the science of ecology. The volume closes with an afterword suggesting directions for future research.

Thoreau asserted that the leaves of the earth's strata were not page upon page to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, "but living poetry like the leaves of a tree." The continuing vitality of Walden shows that it, too, is not a fossil but a living book, still putting out green leaves of insight.

Each decade since Walden was published in 1854 has seen the world grow more crowded and less "simple." What, in our consumerist, speed-of-light, hypermediated world would Thoreau have found worth pursuing? How would he structure his life so as to shut out the phones ringing, the cars honking, the litter trashing his beloved haunts? Readers still seek answers to such questions by picking up their dog-eared copy of Walden and immersing themselves yet again in its pages. Students convince us that this book still holds the power to change lives. These essays are written with the expectation that Thoreau in the new century can help us realize that there are more lives to live and more day to dawn -- that "the sun is but a morning star."

Contributors include Nina Baym, Robert Cummings, Robert Oscar López, Lance Newman, H. Daniel Peck, Dana Phillips, Larry J. Reynolds, David M. Robinson, William Rossi, Robert Sattelmeyer, Sarah Ann Wider, and Michael G. Ziser.

Laura Dassow Walls
“Walden. Yesterday I came here to live.” That entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau, and the intellectual journey it began, would by themselves be enough to place Thoreau in the American pantheon. His attempt to “live deliberately” in a small woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of Walden in 1854.

But there was much more to Thoreau than his brief experiment in living at Walden Pond. A member of the vibrant intellectual circle centered on his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was also an ardent naturalist, a manual laborer and inventor, a radical political activist, and more. Many books have taken up various aspects of Thoreau’s character and achievements, but, as Laura Dassow Walls writes, “Thoreau has never been captured between covers; he was too quixotic, mischievous, many-sided.” Two hundred years after his birth, and two generations after the last full-scale biography, Walls restores Henry David Thoreau to us in all his profound, inspiring complexity.

Walls traces the full arc of Thoreau’s life, from his early days in the intellectual hothouse of Concord, when the American experiment still felt fresh and precarious, and “America was a family affair, earned by one generation and about to pass to the next.” By the time he died in 1862, at only forty-four years of age, Thoreau had witnessed the transformation of his world from a community of farmers and artisans into a bustling, interconnected commercial nation. What did that portend for the contemplative individual and abundant, wild nature that Thoreau celebrated?

Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part. And, running through it all, Thoreau the passionate naturalist, who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him.

“The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, so I wrote this one,” says Walls. The result is a Thoreau unlike any seen since he walked the streets of Concord, a Thoreau for our time and all time.
Laura Dassow Walls
“Walden. Yesterday I came here to live.” That entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau, and the intellectual journey it began, would by themselves be enough to place Thoreau in the American pantheon. His attempt to “live deliberately” in a small woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of Walden in 1854.

But there was much more to Thoreau than his brief experiment in living at Walden Pond. A member of the vibrant intellectual circle centered on his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was also an ardent naturalist, a manual laborer and inventor, a radical political activist, and more. Many books have taken up various aspects of Thoreau’s character and achievements, but, as Laura Dassow Walls writes, “Thoreau has never been captured between covers; he was too quixotic, mischievous, many-sided.” Two hundred years after his birth, and two generations after the last full-scale biography, Walls restores Henry David Thoreau to us in all his profound, inspiring complexity.

Walls traces the full arc of Thoreau’s life, from his early days in the intellectual hothouse of Concord, when the American experiment still felt fresh and precarious, and “America was a family affair, earned by one generation and about to pass to the next.” By the time he died in 1862, at only forty-four years of age, Thoreau had witnessed the transformation of his world from a community of farmers and artisans into a bustling, interconnected commercial nation. What did that portend for the contemplative individual and abundant, wild nature that Thoreau celebrated?

Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part. And, running through it all, Thoreau the passionate naturalist, who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him.

“The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, so I wrote this one,” says Walls. The result is a Thoreau unlike any seen since he walked the streets of Concord, a Thoreau for our time and all time.
Joel Myerson
Writer, editor, journalist, educator, feminist, conversationalist, and reformer Margaret Fuller (1810–1850) was one of the leading intellectuals of nineteenth-century America as well as a prominent member of Concord literary circles. Yet the challenging spirit behind her intellectual confidence and mesmerizing energy led to the invention of an unbalanced legacy that denied her a place among the canonical Concord writers. This collection of first-hand reminiscences by those who knew Fuller personally rescues her from these confusions and provides a clearer identity for this misrepresented personality.
     The forty-one remembrances from Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, Harriet Martineau, Henry James, and twenty-four others chart Fuller’s expanding influence from schooldays in Boston, meetings at the Transcendental Club, teaching in Providence and Boston, work on the New York Tribune, publications and conversations, travels in the British Isles, and life and love in Italy before her tragic early death. Joel Myerson’s perceptive introduction assesses the pre- and postmortem building of Fuller’s reputation as well as her relationship to the prominent Transcendentalists, reformers, literati, and other personalities of her time, and his headnotes to each selection present valuable connecting contexts.
     The woman who admitted that “at nineteen she was the most intolerable girl that ever took a seat in a drawing-room,” whose Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major book-length feminist call to action in America, never conformed to nineteenth-century expectations of self-effacing womanhood. The fascinating contradictions revealed by these narratives create a lively, lifelike biography of Fuller’s “rare gifts and solid acquirements . . . and unfailing intellectual sympathy.”
Laura Dassow Walls
Thoreau was a poet, a naturalist, a major American writer. Was he also a scientist? He was, Laura Dassow Walls suggests. Her book, the first to consider Thoreau as a serious and committed scientist, will change the way we understand his accomplishment and the place of science in American culture.
Walls reveals that the scientific texts of Thoreau’s day deeply influenced his best work, from Walden to the Journal to the late natural history essays. Here we see how, just when literature and science were splitting into the “two cultures” we know now, Thoreau attempted to heal the growing rift. Walls shows how his commitment to Alexander von Humboldt’s scientific approach resulted in not only his “marriage” of poetry and science but also his distinctively patterned nature studies. In the first critical study of his “The Dispersion of Seeds” since its publication in 1993, she exposes evidence that Thoreau was using Darwinian modes of reasoning years before the appearance of Origin of Species.
This book offers a powerful argument against the critical tradition that opposes a dry, mechanistic science to a warm, “organic” Romanticism. Instead, Thoreau’s experience reveals the complex interaction between Romanticism and the dynamic, law-seeking science of its day. Drawing on recent work in the theory and philosophy of science as well as literary history and theory, Seeing New Worlds bridges today’s “two cultures” in hopes of stimulating a fuller consideration of representations of nature.
Ronald A. Bosco
The Emerson Brothers: A Fraternal Biography in Letters is a narrative and epistolary biography drawn from the unpublished lifelong correspondence exchanged among four brothers: Charles Chauncy, Edward Bliss, Ralph Waldo, and William Emerson. This is an extensive correspondence, for not counting Waldo's previously published letters, there are 768 letters exchanged among the brothers and an additional 483 unpublished letters from the brothers to their aunt Mary Moody Emerson, mother Ruth Haskins Emerson, and Charles' fiancée Elizabeth Hoar, among others. While lesser figures might have faltered under the burden of having been born an Emerson, with social, political, and ecclesiastic roots extending back to the first century of New England settlement, the brothers' letters reveal that all were invigorated by a shared sense of origin and aspired to make a significant reputation for themselves. Across six richly developed chapters, the signal events and friendships that shaped the Emerson brothers' lives are strung together to reveal a remarkable family culture. For the first time, The Emerson Brothers treats the illustrious history of the Emerson family in America as a foreshadowing of expectations the brothers inherited; defines the extent of Waldo's debt to William for his encounter with German Biblical Criticism; develops Charles' and Edward's incredibly promising but ultimately tragic lives; examines the profound emotional and intellectual impact of Aunt Mary on the younger Emersons; considers the three-year courtship between Charles and Elizabeth Hoar in the context of Waldo's own marriages; and studies the brothers' preoccupation with financial security for "the family" (revealing, too, that finances were at least as powerful a motivation behind Waldo's 1832 resignation from Boston's Second Church as were the death of his first wife and his religious doubts). This biography approaches Waldo's inner life in a way that makes him a figure to imagine personally by portraying him in relation to his brothers who are his intellectual equals. It offers an imaginative social and cultural history of one of our oldest and most gifted families, unique players in a period often considered to be the "American Renaissance."
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