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.
Sharon Aronofsky Weltman
This chapter addresses the plenitude of adaptations from Dickens’s fiction to performance media since his death in 1870. The first half considers how Dickens helps us to think about theories of adaptation and what makes Dickens’s fiction—conceived through performance—so suitable for rendering into such varied forms as theatre, cinema, radio, and television. The second half examines key adaptations of Oliver Twist, Dickens’s second-most-adapted work. Adapters serve as interpreters of the novel, not only choosing to dramatize what interests them or what works well in performance but also offering a particular vision of what the text means, at least for the moment. Actors make performance choices that reveal problems and possibilities within both adaptation and source. Dickens’s rich legacy of adaptation demonstrates his fiction’s flexibility as a vehicle to comment on contemporary cultural, political, and social concerns.
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.
Christopher J. Herr
This essay examines the history of political drama in the United States from 1910 to 1945. It describes the diversity of styles used and attitudes taken by politically influenced dramas, including those that supported capitalism in the 1920s, the increasingly oppositional leftist dramas of the 1930s, and the pro-war (or antifascist) plays of the 1940s. This essay also considers how much political content is required in order to label a play as political.
Anne K. Mellor
This article addresses the female-authored elegy. By far the greatest number of elegies penned by women between 1660 and 1834 confront the loss of a dearly beloved family member or friend. Additionally, it describes Mary Chudleigh's three elegies at length because they provide a brilliant representation of the emotional continuum upon which other female elegists map the work of grieving. At the end of the eighteenth century, the female-authored elegy underwent a significant literary development. In the hands of its most skilled practitioners — Charlotte Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Letitia Landon, and Felicia Hemans — the poetic elegy became an exploration. The female-authored elegies functioned on occasion as a vehicle of culturally repressed sexual desire. Many of them are more specific in their political critique, taking the occasion to support particular parties, policies or public figures.
Colleen Glenney Boggs
This article investigates why nineteenth-century views of human subjectivity repeatedly cross into the terrain of the nonhuman and animals, and examines the formation of liberal subjectivity. It offers subtle readings of John Locke, Emily Dickinson, and other theorists of what has become known as animal studies. The article traces the links between the ontological questions posed by current affect theory to Lockean origins and subsequent intellectual receptions of liberal subject formation.
This essay investigates the scenic poles of city and frontier as sites for the American drama. It explains that the frontier and the urban were productive of distinct dramatic figures during the antebellum decades. The frontier served as a register of modern concerns while urban plays focused on poverty, seductive dimensions of city life, and threats to morality. This essay also analyzes relevant plays, including Anna Cora Mowatt’s Fashion, Benjamin Baker’s A Glance at New York, and George H. Boker’s Francesca da Rimini.
Amelia Howe Kritzer
This essay focuses on the emergence of women playwrights in the United States during the antebellum period. It analyzes the works of several women playwrights, including Anna Cora Mowatt, Elizabeth Crocker Bowers, and Charlotte Barnes Conner, and it highlights their tendency to avoid political themes except by implication of the cultural and social situation of women themselves. This essay identifies the persistent motif in the works of these women, which is the “powerless woman,” a figure that emerged in connection with the failure of feminism to take hold in American society in the 1790s.
This article examines the works of Washington Irving within the broad framework of global narratives. It analyzes how geographical variables enter into the writings of Irving and how as an author he played self-consciously with the contours of cultural mapping. The article suggests that the reflexive nature of Irving's work speaks to a meta-geographical dimension which was common to many American writers in the antebellum period, who were concerned in one way or another with how the national domain might be mapped.
Sandra Harbert Petrulionis
Transcendentalism has a very deep history in antislavery activism. As the article goes, Radical abolitionism gained momentum as an organized effort centered in Transcendentalist New England with the Boston publication of William Lloyd Garrison's “Liberator,” which began in 1831. The article takes on Garrison as a great antislavery activist as in contrast to using gradual methods Garrison insisted on the immediate and peaceful abolition of slavery. Bronson Alcott alone among the Transcendentalists locked arms with Garrison, attending his lectures even before the “Liberator” began publication. However, later on, by the late 1850s, nearly all of the Transcendentalists regarded themselves as abolitionists. Instead of whether to act, they deliberated how to do so. Many women in the Transcendentalist circle responded to Garrison, empowered by his insistence that women take leadership roles in his movement, though the principal female Transcendentalist Fuller, however, played little to no active role in antislavery reform.
This article focuses on archives of publishing and gender in the U.S.A., and the historical codes in literary analysis. It investigates how archival research changed what we thought we knew about American authors, and suggests that the documents left by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Hannah Crafts have forced us to revise standard assumptions about the American canon and its outliers. The article discusses some possibilities that arise from the practices of archival research and suggests what these practices make possible in the interpretation of literature.
Jordan Alexander Stein
This article examines the American novel and the problem of boring books. It investigates what would happen if the assumption about the existence of novel as a literary genre were treated as a critical problem. The article analyzes Herman Melville's 1849 novel Mardi and a Voyage Thither to demonstrate that in order to make sense of “bad” novels, one might be well served to suspend the categories required for deductive conclusions.