(32) Transcendentalism and its Influence in American Literature.
A m e r i c a n R o m a n t i c i s m
[See "Background for Topics 31-33..."]
R a l p h W a l d o E m e r s o n ( 1 8 0 3 – 8 2 )
L i f e :
- grew up in a family incl. a heritage of 9 successive generations of notable New En. ministers
- enrolled in the Harvard Divinity School
- involved with Unitarianism = rejected the Calvinist legacy of J. Edwards and the Great Awakening, shifted from the individual’s depravity to individual’s moral capabilities
- disapproved the worshipping of ‘the dead forms of our forefathers’ in favour of more intuitive and personally revelatory relig. experience
- resigned his ministry: ‘in order to be a good minister it was necessary to leave the ministry’ >> Eur. >> Concord (MA)
W o r k :
- generally consid. the chief spokesman for transcendentalism
- an ambitious and dynamic lecturer
- drew the lectures from his extensive journals: commented on the controversies of the time, private and public persons, and his notes on reading
- lectured throughout Am. and En. with an enormous appeal to the average Am. in the 1840s
- refused the ceremonies of church in favour of individual firsthand experience of God
- urged the ministers to free themselves from the authority of the church, and to instruct their parishioners ‘to love God without mediator’
- developed this controversial ideas in an address at the Harvard Divinity School, resulted in his condemnation as a heretic
- his essays display the way his mind actually works: moves from impression to impression, from association to association
- the flow of his texts analogous to the flow of the natural world
- his philos. rather inconsistent x but: E.: ‘to define is to confine’
- achievement: defined the traditional Am. values of self-reliance, individual authority, individual responsibility, resolute optimism, moral idealism, veneration of experience, and worshipful return to nature
> the work of such divergent figures as W. Whitman, R. Frost, W. C. Williams, G. Stein, F. S. Fitzgerald, W. Cather, & oth
P r o s e :
- attempts to reject the Old World and build a new one: ‘why should we grope among the dry bones of the past?’
- nature should substitute the new nation’s lack of cultural heritage, and should be the source for the articulation and development of the Am. cultural identity
- nature should replace the Bible as capable of being read by anyone
- differentiates the following modes of nature:
(a) Nature as a commodity: food for our senses
(b) Nature as a standard of Beauty
(c) Nature as a source of language: language derives from natural objects
(d) Nature as a teacher of discipline
“The American Scholar”:
- an address developed at the Harvard Divinity School
- urges to break with the past, look at the present, and concentrate on one’s own experience
- bases his philos. on spontaneous action, creative intuition, self-reliance, and self-trust
- the Am. scholar should be ‘The Man Thinking’ x not parroting oth. men’s thought
- his duties should be to cheer, raise, and guide men by showing them facts among appearances
- offers the remedy for the ‘divided man’ of the modern society:
(a) expose oneself to Nature and restore the unity with it
(b) see oneself in the relation with the oth.: see one’s job in the relation with oth. jobs, be happy for what one does and is [– not only feel the dignity of being a student x but: enjoy being so], and become aware of the globalness of human activities
- offers the following levels of education:
(a) Nature = a ‘transparent eye-ball’: one should study the nature by actively perceiving and experiencing it = to study and learn about oneself
(b) Mind of the Past: one should not only read book and memorise facts x but: should use actively the knowledge from the books, for the scholar’s idle time, for inspiration only
(c) Action: no scholar should lack a heroic mind, each should be aware of the dignity and necessity of labour, and should be creative and inventive
=> declares the independence of Am. lit.: celebrated by the foremost critic of the period J. R. Lowell as Am.’s ‘Intellectual Declaration of Independence’
- conc. with Br. culture
- became more empirical and sceptical in his later y.
- devoted his last y. to being ‘the representative American’: wrote movingly about the Emancipation Proclamation and the death of Lincoln
P o e t r y :
- lacks formal perfection x but: not a thought-provoking quality
- attempts a freer style from which a great deal of later modern verse derived
May-Day: a coll. of poems
H e n r y D a v i d T h o r e a u ( 1 8 1 7 – 6 2 )
L i f e :
- received uni education (Harvard) x but: most appreciated self-education
- acquainted with R. W. Emerson, shortly lived with his family as a handyman
- claimed he never needed to leave the little village of Concord (MA) x but: saw all worth seeing in the world
- claimed that on the miniature scale of the place where one happens to be one may read all worth knowing in life
- isolated himself from the outside world, spent 2 y. as a hermit on the shores of Walden Pond
W o r k :
- preocc. with the life of the spirit
- also conc. with the political and social controversies of the time: the utopian plans for communal living, socialistic societies, the Fugitive Slave Act, John Brown (celebrated him), etc.
- developed public addresses against the materialist society x but: incl. also wit and nature lore
- retained his indifference to style: often crabbed and inartistic
- insisted on the strongest thought, sought to express himself unreservedly and spontaneously x but: brought his bookishness into his narrative (learned allusions)
- wrote esp. journals and essays – “Resistance to Civil Government”
- over his grave R. W. Emerson praised his exceptional character x but: lamented he had failed to be all he should have been
- criticized also by J. R. Lowell & oth.
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:
- an account of a canoe excursion with his brother
- nature observations, histories of the region, and observations on the clash of nature x human inhabitants
Walden: or, Life in the Woods:
- set out for Walden Pond on the Independence Day = symbolical for his 1st major undertaking as a writer
- mingles common fact x personal experience, the world without x the world within
- resists on the development of the individual in the place where one happens to be, and on the avoidance of all infl. except the common ones of nature
- his philos. often shrewd, strained, and arbitrary x but: the greatest value in his disclosure of the common facts of the world about one
> “Where I Lived and What I Lived For”, one of the opening explanatory chapters
The Maine Woods, Cape Cod, and A Yankee in Canada: accounts of his next trips
M a r g a r e t F u l l e r ( 1 8 1 0 – 5 0)
L i f e :
- a teacher, transl., ed., journalist, lit. and social critic, feminist theorist and advocate, and poet
- received a rigorous education led by her father: studied the Bible, the classics, W. Shakespeare, E lit., modern languages (esp. Ger.), and history
- ed. the Transcendentalist magazine The Dial for 2 y., intended to stimulate the readership to thinking
- initiated the weekly ‘Conversations’ = meetings of women at the Boston home of the teacher Elizabeth Peabody to discuss various topics under F.’s intellectual leadership
- travelled Eur., met lit. men, experienced the rev. in Ita., and converted to socialism
- only in Eur. solved her life-long tension btw being a woman x a writer, and fully discovered her both qualities
W o r k :
< J. W. Goethe inf. her thinking and teaching, and prepared her for her transl.
- her 1st publ. work the transl. of correspondence of Ger. Writers
C r i t i c i s m :
- wrote unfavourable lit. critical reviews on J. R. Lowell and H. W. Longfellow
- her lifetime: offended the Boston lit. Brahmins (and vice versa) x now: consid. to rank with E. A. Poe as one of Am.’s 1st major lit. critics
- also wrote socially critical essays: tackled controversial public issues incl. the neglect of the blind and the insane, the abuses of F prisoners, etc.
N o n - f i c t i o n :
“The Great Lawsuit: Man Versus Men. Woman Versus Women.”:
- a tightly argued powerful essay, publ. in The Dial
- argues to free men and women from their social roles
- a woman <=> a slave
Woman in the 19th Century:
- an expanded version of “The Great Lawsuit”
- laden with scholarly allusions
Summer on the Lakes:
- a journal account of her trip to the Midwest
- an intellectual miscellany
> a model for H. D. Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
Papers on Literature and Art: a coll. of essays, publ. shortly before her departure for Eur.
Life Without & Life Within: a coll. of essays, poems, and reviews
Memoirs (posthum.): her life recreated by her friends R. W. Emerson, James Freeman Clarke, and W. H. Channing
Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.
Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.
McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.
Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.
Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.
Peprník, Michal. Semináře: Americká literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.