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The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings (Modern Library Classics)by Lawrence Buell
Synopses & Reviews
"Buell, professor of American literature at Harvard, has done a splendid job of presenting in one hefty but manageable volume the core writings of the Transcendentalist movement. Buell provides a clear, workmanlike historical introduction, then presents generous selections based on topic or theme — Anticipations, Manifestos and Definitions, Secular Reform, and Literature and the Arts, among others — and ends with a section of Remembrances, being late-nineteenth-century essays by the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James, looking back from their near perspective on the Transcendentalists.
Of necessity, Emerson dominates this book, as he did the Transcendentalist movement. His seminal essay 'Nature' is included in its entirety. Emerson's prose voice might take some getting used to these days. His high style, heavy on aphorism, can seem too sonorous, but the range and brilliance of his thought remains no less than astounding. 'Nature' celebrates the near infinite power of the enlightened soul within the American landscape, and captures Emerson at his highest and his most human. In the woods, he says, 'I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. Almost I fear to think how glad I am. . . . There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair.' I've always loved Emerson for that one exception, 'leaving me my eyes.'
Buell provides a short introduction to each of his selections, giving the context of the work within the larger movement and offering a few additional thoughts and notes: it is here, in these shorter pieces, that Buell's own joy in the material is most evident. The selections themselves are broadly extracted from the major figures of the movement, and are of generous length. He cannot include the whole of Walden, which Buell rightly calls 'the greatest of all Transcendentalist classics.' He offers instead a fascinating selection of Thoreau's journal entries (many of which found their way into Walden) from his time at Walden Pond. These entries in turn are prefaced by a short selection from Nathaniel Hawthorne's notebooks, describing a walk he took to Walden Pond two years before Thoreau moved there, including a description by Hawthorne of 'a little hamlet of huts or shanties, inhabited by the Irish people who are at work upon the railroad.' It was one of these shanties, of course, that Thoreau bought to dismantle and use as the base material for his small house." Reviewed by Peter Walpole, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
About the Author
Lawrence Buell is the Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University. He is the award-winning author of many notable books, including Literary Transcendentalism, The Environmental Imagination, and Emerson.
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