Friday, February 02, 2007

Touching Down Near American Bloomsbury

I'm in Boston and Cambridge this weekend. As some of you know, I like to tailor my reading to my location when I travel. So for this trip I brought along Susan Cheever's American Bloomsbury - Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. I made a good start on it on the airplane, and it's proving to be every bit as ambitious a group biography as that voluminous subtitle would lead you to expect.

I already knew about the Concord connection between Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau. But it was something of a surprise to me to see Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe listed among their friends and contemporaries. I'm afraid that I'm not very well versed in American literature. I know a lot about some U.S. authors and nothing at all about many, many others. I have no sense of the overall sweep of history and was under the impression that Hawthorne and Poe were from an earlier period than Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau. If you shared my ignorance of the relevant dates, would you have arrived at that impression based on the writing of these authors?

I'm off to browse at the marvellous Harvard Bookstore, one of my favourite Cambridge activities. Perhaps I ought to search out a couple of tomes on American literary history while I'm there...


jenclair said...

Although they were contemporaries, the trancendentalist are so different in content from Poe and Hawthorne that I rarely think of them together.

I did read a mystery recently that had Poe visit the Alcotts. In the novel, there was some conflict between Poe and Bronson Alcott. It would be understandable if those two failed to see things in a similar manner.

Have a great time, Kate!

Rebecca H. said...

Those authors certainly do strike me as being on different sides of various debates of the time, particularly Hawthorne and Emerson and their views on religion and the human relationship to the divine. Perhaps Hawthorne's obsession with the past has something to do your thinking he's from an earlier time than Emerson and the others?

mary grimm said...

I know what you mean. I often make that kind of mistake--even when I actually know the dates.
Hawthorne and Poe seem to look back, don't you think? while Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott look forward.

Anonymous said...

If Kate has time, I might suggest a visit to 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, which is the elegant, colonial-era home of Henry Longfellow. The year 2007 is the Longfellow Bicentennial, celebrating the poet's birth on February 25, 1807. Major commemorations are planned throughout the Boston area.
...While perhaps not as philosophical as his friends (Longfellow regularly entertained the transcendentalists at dinner parties at his home), Mr. Longfellow elevated America's general appreciation of poetry and the arts by articulating the beauty and pathos of traditional folklore. He is best remembered for his Paul Revere's Ride and Song of Hiawatha, but Longfellow also wrote two poignant love-ballads, Evangeline (1847), and The Courtship of Miles Standish.(1858) They are among the most famous -- and haunting – epic love-poems ever written.
Archaic language obscured both romances for decades, but the latter, Courtship has just been restored in modern English as The Romance of Pilgrims: A Great American Love-Story. Evangeline, considered the Romeo and Juliet of American literature, still awaits a restorer.

Regards, D. Bradford, editor of The Romance of Pilgrims, by Longfellow