This article examines the relationship between literary critical practice and human rights, and describes the present uses of literary criticism. It analyzes an example of abolitionism and activism as it was conceived and practiced by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison. The article evaluates how our understanding of texts and issues today can be informed by our analysis and understanding of the myths and metaphors of who we are that we have inherited from earlier literatures and movements.
Russ Castronovo and Dana D. Nelson
This article examines what can be learned from nineteenth-century American literature regarding twenty-first-century citizenship. It investigates how the intellectual project of reading and interpreting American literature can prepare us for the deliberative work of democracy and what American literature tells us about this difficult relationship. The article explores how literature can be read politically, and describes the relevant works of Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown.
This chapter explores the ‘aesthetics of catastrophe’ that informs the stage experiments of the period, epitomized by Edward Gordon Craig’s essay-manifesto of 1909, ‘The Actor and the Übermarionette’, one of many anti-theatrical tracts of early modernist theatre whose aim, paradoxically, was to ‘retheatricalize’ an art form that many felt had been dulled by realism. Anti-theatrical stage experiments, frequently located within the physical, semantic/representational, and ideological contours of the performing body, were deeply influenced by puppets, masks, robots, and automata. These are the focus of Taxidou’s discussion as writing on puppets by Arthur Symons, Walter Pater, and Oscar Wilde are charted, in conjunction with the work of Heinrich von Kleist, Charles Baudelaire (on dolls), and the actual puppet theatres of France and Italy that were so influential at the end of the nineteenth century.
This article discusses how the problem of literary address spawned many of Victorian poetry’s self-doubts. While engaging in more traditional forms of verse, Victorian poets realized the complexity of addressing an audience both on paper and in real life. In an attempt to project a personal voice, they often incorporated a sceptical counter-voice—a ‘dialogue of the mind with itself’. The use of pronouns such as ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘we’, and ‘they’ carried the burden of implication, not just by pointing towards arguments they did not state explicitly, but also by obliging poets to consider the extent of their personal involvement in a particular subject.
The late nineteenth-century Aesthetic movement challenged many aspects of Victorian literature and culture. This chapter explores how the emphasis on pleasure within Aestheticism was central to that challenge. The pursuit of ‘art for art’s sake’ might seem to imply a step away from the politics of the day, but the hedonism of the movement, the chapter suggests, subverted dominant arguments about culture and society in an age of democratization. The works of Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater provide a means to examine a wider aesthetic counter-culture that resisted Matthew Arnold’s arguments for critical consensus, undermined the calculated happiness of Utilitarian political economy, and broke open new spaces for the appreciation and expression of beauty.
G. Terence Wilson
For centuries, literary critics have made a division between poetry and prose, believing that poetry focuses on complex interactions between sound and sense, while prose centers on lucid significance. However, this article states that the major Transcendentalists believed that no clear distinction existed between poetry and prose. Supposing that the poetic is at one with the organic, they concluded that prose, if it approached the powers of nature, could qualify as poetry. Hence, the general aesthetics of American Transcendentalism are not confined to poetry but rather include poetry and prose alike. The aesthetic theories of Transcendentalists were vast and deep. They touched all the natural elements and resources and they were defined beautifully elucidating the aesthetic concepts of the Transcendentalists. Emerson tried to write about the world in his earliest book, Nature. Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau, too, persistently worked to transform creatures into conceits and tropes into flora and fauna.
This chapter maintains that Pushkin’s artistic project illuminates a paradoxical convergence of nationalism and internationalism at the core of both European and Russian Romanticism: the period’s concurrent commitment, on the national as well as individual scale, to creative solipsism and to circuits of intellectual exchange opened up by the Enlightenment across Europe; its introspection and extroversion; its vitalizing yet ambivalent comparatism. Pushkin’s formal and stylistic versatility appears to revel in, but also critically interrogate, the creative possibilities inherent in a country fashioning its modern national culture by means of appropriation. This investment in comparative cultural (de)construction, at once playful and serious, persists as a unifying thread throughout Pushkin’s otherwise insistently versatile oeuvre and could be productively singled out as the defining feature of his Romanticism.
This article examines the poetry and essays of Alice Meynell. It first considers the poem, ‘A Modern Poet’ (1875), which illustrates both her ambivalence about women’s poetry and her own reception as a nineteenth- or twentieth-century poet. It then turns to ‘The Laws of Verse’ and ‘The English Metres,’ where she addresses poetic form.
This article discusses the American constitutional elegy. It argues that American national difference in literature can be tracked in the terms of its engagement with specifically American constitutional principles, concentrating on the national period, beginning in the late eighteenth century with the Revolutionary War and sketching the story up to the present day. It then returns to the great theme of elegy as a flexible form and its practices under persistent self-scrutiny. All choral poetry carries with it an association with the choruses of ancient, especially Athenian, tragedy and thus with the common understanding that the chorus speaks as or on behalf of a democratic citizenry. Marilyn Hacker has written a ‘constitutional elegy’ in the great American tradition, a tradition that continues to challenge our principled commitment to the legal and symbolic bonds of ‘adjacent difference’ in a rights-based national polity.
This article traces the history of American poetry in the Victorian period, which witnessed the birth, maturity, and demise of American poetic culture. In 1837, American poetry was in its infancy. Cultural pressures to create a distinctively American literature that was respected by Europeans and met the needs and democratic aspirations of a highly diverse populace raised the value of poetic production and rewarded those who produced it. By mid-century, a fully accredited culture of letters was established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, along with Emerson, manned an American outpost of mainstream Victorian culture: English poetry’s satellite campus at Harvard.