In this landmark work, the seven great writers of the American RenaissanceEmerson, Thoreau, Writman, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, and Dickinsonare examined together in their cultural contexts. David Reynolds reveals how these authors broadly assimilated the themes and images of popular culture. Their classic worksamong them Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, Walden, and the tales of Poeare given strikingly original reading when viewed against the rich, often startling background of long neglected popular writings of the time.
Reynolds also explores a whole lost world of sensational literature, including grisly novels, openly sold on the street, that combined intense violence with explicit eroticism. He demonstrates as well how common concerns with issues of religion, slavery, and workers' (as well as women's) rights resonate in the major writings.
Poe's portraits of psychopathic murderers, Melville's studies of incest and deceit, Whitman's hymns to sexual passion and Hawthorne's allegories of social outcasts had roots in the popular writings of their daypenny newspapers, crime pamphlets, erotic fiction, sensational novels, Oriental and visionary tales. In a massive, dense study, Reynolds, who teaches at Rutgers, shows that 19th century American writers were not isolated elitists, as assumed. Emerson, for example, infused his essays with the color and imagery of torrid evangelical preaching; Emily Dickinson drew upon the ``literature of misery,'' feminist ficiton which projected an embittered female self; Melville grafted such genres as mystery fiction, yellow novels and Yankee humor. Astonishing in its scope and wealth of new connections, this sweeping study is a landmark in the reevaluation of 19th century American literature. Illustrations not seen by PW. (April)