Faces of Thoreau in American Literature
Abstract: Doctoral dissertation supervised by Professor Ronald A. Bosco (co-supervised by Professor Judith Johnson and Professor Judith Fetterley), Department of English, University at Albany, State University of New York.This study examines the ways in which a number of American writers respond pointedly to the life and writings of Henry David Thoreau in their own works, with a special emphasis on recent writers. Throughout the study I consider Thoreau not only as a valorized author in the American literary tradition but as a powerful cultural icon of shifting significations. The study focuses in particular on how received versions of the author and his texts feed back into the American literary tradition vis-a-vis the mediating influence of other writers.Primary focus texts include works by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Edward Abbey and Hayden Carruth. The focus texts offer constructions of Thoreau that correspond to a few of the most prominent ways in which our culture has memorialized the author of Walden in a variety of reductive guises. These works have been chosen for the range of ways in which Thoreau appears in them (as dramatic or fictionalized character, as intertextual 'collaborator' or as biographical/literary discourse subject), as well as for the various versions of Thoreau's life and writings that they promote. These distinct versions of Thoreau can be seen as significant literary expressions of the impetus in American culture to memorialize or vilify Thoreau under a number of competing rubrics.The many responses to Thoreau's life, works and received legacy in our culture correlate to an interesting variety of ways in which our recent literature responds to Thoreau by embracing, repudiating, and/or problematizing what he is believed to represent. I situate recent literary representations of Thoreau within a proper historical context by tracing their lineage back to a gallery of prototypical constructions of the author promoted by writers in the decades following his death. As Thoreau was the first writer to offer a textual representation of himself in the American literary tradition, Walden, the Journal and "Resistance to Civil Government" are also a central focus in the study. Other writers discussed include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, William Ellery Channing, James Russell Lowell, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Allen Ginsberg. Mahatma Gandhi's role in aggrandizing Thoreau and animating some of his most prominent modern 'faces' is also an important focus.
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