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.
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.
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 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.
This article examines African American literary traditions during the nineteenth century. It suggests that African American literary history of this time is often taken to be a rather self-evident tradition and describes the collection of works published by African American writers that were considered to have a literary veil obscuring the real work of political protest and activism. The article analyzes the works of William Wells Brown, Martin Delany, and William Grimes in the context of African American literary and cultural theory.
Patrick B. Sharp
Evolution is the scientific principle of organic life that has served as the basis for science fiction extrapolations since the emergence of the genre. The work of Charles Darwin also provided one of the primary vehicles through which Victorian assumptions about colonialism, race, and gender found their way into science fiction. Discussing the work of authors such as Philip Nowlan, Leslie F. Stone, C. L. Moore, and Octavia E. Butler, this chapter shows how Darwin’s assumptions about colonialism, race, and gender have been both accepted and contested by science fiction authors in ways that underscore how science fiction is inherently a Darwinist genre.
This article looks at the evolution of the concept of nature from a field for spiritual seeking into the broadening of Transcendentalism. The article also looks on the responses of major Transcendentalists towards that change. Despite having taken shape within Unitarianism, the Transcendentalist movement quickly developed into a comprehensive critique of capitalism that combined protoenvironmentalist attitudes with radical ideas about social reform. The article also talks about the involvement of major Transcendentalists in the movement. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who led the Transcendentalist turn to nature by resigning his ministry at Boston's Second Church in 1832. The Transcendentalist ideal of the green city, which partly inspired the Brook Farmers, may be the movement's least well-recognized legacy. It developed in direct response to the realities of urbanization in the Northeast.
David M. Robinson
The article narrates different aspects of religious reforms and the changes that were brought about by transmitting an entirely new concept to the American society in the wake of the formation of Free Religious Association (FRA). The program of religious reform begun by the Transcendentalists was carried forward by the FRA, formed in 1865 by a group of dissident Unitarian ministers, self-described “radicals” who aspired to a naturalized, post-Christian, and universal understanding of human spirituality. They propounded a perpetually evolving and reconstituting self whose religious evolution was never wholly attained or fully completed but remaking itself always. The article states that though Transcendentalism had generated an ocean of scholarly articles and books, the free religion movement has been much less studied. The controversies surrounding the rise of the FRA were not so prominent as those surrounding Transcendentalism, and the movement remained, despite its larger aspirations, an essentially intra-Unitarian dispute.
Travis M. Foster
This article examines regionalism in nineteenth-century American literature, focusing on the Ladies' Home Journal. It analyzes the journal's commentary on literature and literary culture during a period corresponding to regionalism's prominence, from the periodical's founding in 1883 through the turn of the century. The article explores what authors and readers think about the impact of reading on the formation of social bonds.
This article examines the role of Mexican America in the U.S. literary imagination. It discusses the hemispheric vision of Mexican America and comments on the notion that sees the invention of Mexican America as only an anticolonial response to the U.S.A. The article suggests that the invention of Mexican America should be read in the context of the complexity of the Americas as a site of layered colonialisms, overlapping geographies, and the contradiction of a Creole double consciousness inventing itself over and over again to avoid discovery.
This article examines the relationship between literature and the news, particularly how literature speaks to its contemporary situation. It investigates the connection of novels, ranging from George Lippard's popular works to the literary-minded productions authored by Henry James, to the explosion of newspapers and the daily events reported in their pages. The article also highlights the efforts of authors to assert the currency of their work by insisting on its relevance.
This article examines the conception of American literature as philosophy. It aims to present a reading of Frederick Douglass's thinking on examples and the philosophical freight they carry, and describes the relevant works of William Wells Brown. The article explores how Douglass navigated concerns about the relationship between theory and example in “Self-Made Men,” and argues that literary critics should be careful to avoid the doctrinaire application of all philosophical ideas and theoretical models.
This article seeks to comprehend the contradictions inherent in the thinking of the Transcendentalists. The most particular concern here is to make sense of the paradox of Transcendentalism's strong antiestablishment tendencies as against the signs of its complicity with American expansionism. The article critically examines the stand of Transcendentalists according to new phenomena of the world. It explains the concept of “English race” and different opinions of different people about it. It also talks about the Transcendentalists' vacillations between dissent from and acquiescence to the nineteenth-century national, political, and ideological status quo as the movement evolved. Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, and William Henry Channing are criticized for their stand on the concept of “west”. Transcendentalists have been accused of precipitating the climate of moralistic extremism in American society.
H. J. Jackson
The value attributed to the notes that famous authors have made in books depends on more than mere association: we are disposed to believe that their annotations reveal something about their mental lives and about the sources of the creative process. But if marginalia contribute to the creative process, perhaps the practice should be encouraged in all aspiring writers. Examples are taken from books owned by British, American, and Canadian writers from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, ranging from Milton through Coleridge and Keats to T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, with special prominence given to Northrop Frye, Walt Whitman, John Adams, Hester Piozzi, and William Beckford.
This article focuses on environmental criticism and the depiction of nature in nineteenth-century American literature. It explores what nineteenth-century American literature can offer to an era of global climate change (GCC) and describes the works of nineteenth-century defenders of nature including Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Walt Whitman. The article argues that if the narrative arts can grapple with the ecological complexity of GCC, clues to survival reside in nineteenth-century U.S. literature.
Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray
This article looks at nineteenth-century print culture and the way Transcendentalism dealt with the boom of print and manuscript production, dissemination, and reception. The field of print reproduction was at the time in question redefined by broader socioeconomic changes that turned America into a modern industrial nation. The period indeed was a turning point for Transcendentalism as by the midcentury publishers were beholding a vast mass market and they had the means of tapping into it. This nascent mass consumer culture of print provided opportunities as well as posing problems for the Transcendentalists, as they could not easily adopt an ethic of meeting consumer demand. The article also examines the lack of “reception” of Transcendentalism in print.
Gregory S. Jackson
This article examines homiletic identification, forms of interactive narrative, and the conception of the novel as board game in the U.S.A. during the nineteenth century. It suggests that the success that many homiletic novels enjoyed among religious and secular communities highlights the degree to which allegedly anachronistic allegorical modes of understanding temporal and material details and events continue to structure supposedly secular reading practices. The article also discusses several homiletic novels including Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur.
This article investigates the profound redundancy, terminological and historical, of transnational American studies. It argues that transnational American studies is a logically incoherent formulation whose plausibility arises from its perpetuation of a hemispheric cultural–political project of a very long nineteenth century which has distinguished America as more than yet another nation but rather a teeming nation of nations. The article discusses the works of Thomas Paine, Simón Bolívar, and José Vasconcelos.
Examining oratory as a dynamic, changing medium for communication during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain, this essay scrutinizes several of its most important sites of performance: religion, politics, social reform, performance, and education. In each of those arenas, oratory helped to fuel some of most exciting social and political changes of the era by reconceptualizing ideas about the relationship between leaders and the public, the notion of rhetorical persuasion, and the importance of public opinion. An exceptionally interdisciplinary set of scholarship on the subject has done much to invigorate the study of oratory in recent years, and yet this field lacks an intellectual center from which scholars might move beyond individual studies to conceptualize the larger significance of oratory across all sites of performance.