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Who's Who in American Literature: Transcendentalists, Romantics, American Renaissance

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Terri Steinmann

on 22 December 2015

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Transcript of Who's Who in American Literature: Transcendentalists, Romantics, American Renaissance

Who's Who in American Literature:
Transcendentalists, Romantics, and the American Renaissance

The Movements defined
The "Dark" Transcendentalists, or the Anti-Transcendentalists
Where Transcendentalism embraced the ideals of the innate lightness and goodness of mankind, the Dark Transcendentalists chose to look at just that: the dark side of humanity. They opposed the optimism and naive idealism of the Transcendentalists. They focused on the guilt and remorse of past sin, moral dilemmas, and society's wrongdoings
The Romantics
The Transcendentalists
The Fireside Poets
First group of American poets to rival the British in popularity, in both countries
Their poetry holds a timeless endurance
Poetic style favored convention over experimentation
Strict attention to rhyme and metric cadence. This made their poems easy to memorize, and favorites in schools and homes. Thus the name "fireside"
Some long narrative poems which used American legends and home life as the focus
Often addressed the "hot button" topics of the day, but did so through the use of sentimentality, encouraging readers to look at the issue through a different lens
The American Renaissance
Transcendentalism (late 1820s - 1830s)
Writers and philosophers in 19th c. New England
Bound together by an adherence to an idealistic system of thought based on a belief in the essential unity of all creation
Innate goodness of humankind, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience in revealing the deepest truths
All human beings have God in us and human spirituality is reflected in nature
"Over-Soul" - ultimate spiritual force that encompasses all existence and of which every person is a part
Romanticism 1800-1870s
A rejection of ordinary life, an escape from reality
Emphasis on ordinary people, lives, emotions, and experiences
Intuition was of higher value than reason
Idealism - characters and plot are of heroic proportions
Interest in past times and places
Supernatural, mysterious, gothic themes
Love of nature - mystical adoration of nature, similar to Native Americans
The American Renaissance 1830s - 1870s
1830s - end of the Civil War
Heavily influenced by the Transcendentalist movement
effort to create uniquely "American" literature, exploring American issues like abolitionism, temperance, religious tolerance, scientific progress, the expanding Western Frontier, and the growing "Native American Problem"
Short fiction encompassed various genres and themes: Gothic, detective, horror, sea tales, historical fiction, and progressive social issues
Washington Irving 1783-1859
Best known for his short stories, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which appeared in his book,
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
Prolific writer - fiction, biographies, histories, travel narratives
First American author to win acclaim in Europe, he was the first international, best-selling author
Irving advocated for writing to be viewed as a legitimate profession, and fought for copyright infringement laws
Perfected the short story:
Wrote in the vernacular
No obligation to the moral or didactic - stories should be just to entertain
Walt Whitman 1819-1892
Whitman's family were Quaker
Father was a farmer and carpenter, mother was ill and illiterate
Unhappy home life
Formal schooling ended at age 11, but he continued to read everything he could
Became a schoolteacher for three years at the age of 17
Bought a small press at the age of 20 and began work as an editor, publisher, and writer of
The Long Islander
Emily Dickinson 1830-1886
Born in Amhurst, Massachusetts to a long line of Puritans
One of three children, Emily had one brother and one sister. Neither she nor her sister ever married
Educated at Amhurst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary
Controversy over how much of her poetry is autobiographical
Was allegedly romantically linked to several editors and possibly several of her poems were written for them
In 1874 she stopped going out in public at all. She maintained correspondence through writing
Wore only white dresses at the end of her life. Was buried in one
Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 -1882
Poet, essayist, lecturer
One of the leaders of the Transcendentalist movement
Graduated from Harvard college in 1821
Ordained as a Unitarian minister in 1829
Began to doubt Christian doctrines. The death of his wife made those doubts worse
He resigned from the ministry in 1832
Henry David Thoreau 1817 - 1862
Poet, essayist, philosopher
Best known for living the Transcendentalist doctrines
Graduated from Harvard College
Taught for a few years at a school started by his brother
Friends with Emerson, who suggested Thoreau keep a journal
Built a small home on the shores of Walden Pond, on land owned by Emerson
Stayed at Walden Pond for two years
Spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax
Dedicated abolitionist. Helped with the Underground Railroad
Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849
Parents were traveling actors and died when he was two
Adopted by John Allen and his wife
Briefly attended University of Virginia
Attended West Point but was kicked out for gambling
Went to live with his aunt and fell in love with his young cousin, Virginia
Later married Virginia, who was only 13 years old
Died of alcoholism, according to many sources
Herman Melville 1819 - 1891
Best known for his work,
Moby Dick
, which was inspired by a short career as a seaman
His first two novels,
had relative commercial success
In September, 1850, Melville and his wife bought a farm in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. There he met up-and-coming author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had just published his first novel,
The Scarlet Letter
John Greenleaf Whittier 1807 - 1892
Born on a farm of Puritan and Quaker Ancestry
Limited formal education
Loved poetry as a youngster
Deeply admired John Milton (English poet) and his poetry
Father discouraged his interest in poetry so he was a journalist for many years
Was an abolitionist and humanitarian
Noted for his vivid and deeply truthful portrayals of New England life
Most famous poem is "Snow Bound"
Oliver Wendell Holmes 1809 - 1894
Received degree from Harvard in 1836
Practiced medicine for 10 years
Taught anatomy at Dartmouth College
Became professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard
Later was made Dean of Harvard Medical School
Greatest fame came from being a humorist and poet
Some of his famous poems are:
"Old Ironsides"
"The Chambered Nautilus"
William Cullen Bryant 1794-1878
Entered the sophomore class of Williams College at the age of 16
Left without graduating but later studied law and was admitted to the bar at the age of 21
Spent 10 years as an attorney, but disliked the profession
Moved to NYC in 1825 to become co-editor of New York Review
became editor of The Evening Post (he retained this position for 50 years)
"Thanatopsis", written when Bryant was 17, and "To a Waterfowl" are his two most famous poems
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1802 - 1882
Most popular poet of the 19th century
Graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825
Traveled to Europe and then came back to be a professor and librarian at Bowdoin
Later accepted position with Harvard as professor of modern languages
Criticized by his contemporaries for following what was popular rather than worrying about artistic integrity
Some of his famous works include:
"Paul Revere's Ride"
"The Courtship of Miles Standish"
Sojourner Truth 1797 - 1883
Noted abolitionist, Women's Rights activist, speaker
Born Isabella Baumfree
Born into slavery in New York state - it was still legal there at the time
in 1826 she escaped from her master's home with one of her five children, while the New York Emancipation Act was taking effect.
Shortly after, one of her sons was sold to another family. Baumfree sued to regain custody of him and won, making her the first black woman to successfully sue a white man and win
In 1843 she legally changed her name to Sojourner Truth
She found work as a domestic housekeeper, and published her memoir, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave in 1850
Frederick Douglass 1818 - 1895
Social reformer, orator, writer, statesman
Born into slavery in Maryland
Prided himself on being the living counter-argument to the "intellectual capacity" argument of pro-slavery supporters
Was taught the alphabet by one of his owners. He taught himself to read and write, and continued his lifelong quest for self- education
In 1838 he escaped into New York state, by that time a free state
Within months he married Anna Murray, and the two regularly began attending abolitionist meetings, where Douglass would share his story. Douglass quickly became a leader in the abolitionist movement
Based on Jim Harvey's speech structures
"Brook Farm Movement"
Utopian experiment in communal living that lasted from 1841-1847
Located in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (near Boston)
Organized and directed by George Ripley
Some of the shareholders included:
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Bronson Alcott
The project prospered for a while, but disaster struck when all available funds were put into construction of a large central building which burned down during its celebration of completion
July 4, 1855 -
Leaves of Grass
Advertised himself as a fellow laborer, "beloved by illiterate"
Had to fall back on journalism due to money problems
Civil War broke out, but didn't enlist due to age. His brother was wounded, so Whitman went to Fredricksburg and worked as a wound dresser
Whitman tried to protect rumors about his homosexuality by alluding to illicit affairs and numerous children
Had a stroke in his mid-50's and never recovered
Writing Style
Free verse - no regular pattern, rhyme, or meter
Rhythm of music
Unconventional metric patterns
Irregular lines and stanza lengths
Spokesman for unique and commonplace, heroic and base, splendid and ugly
Called "poet of democracy"
Writing style
Noted for her unconventional broken rhyming meter, use of dashes, and random capitalization
Motifs were love, death, immortality, and nature
Wrote over 1800 poems
Submitted her work to many magazines. Editors tried to correct her work, but she refused to alter it
Only published a few poems in her lifetime, but after her death her sister found hundreds stitched together. Her sister began to edit and publish the poems
Most crucial writing was Nature because almost everything else he wrote after was an extension
Lecture called "The American Scholar" was about the resources and duties of the new liberated intellectual that he himself had become
Another lecture called "Address at Divinity College" was against Christian tradition
These lectures caused him to be ostracized by many colleges
1840 - first launched The Dial which was a magazine expounding Transcendental ideas
Literary career
Editor for several periodicals
Famous for his poetry and short stories
Noted for his close observation to minute details
Many give him credit for being creator of the "ratiocinative story", better known as the detective story
Melville's writing was heavily influenced by his extremely close relationship with Hawthorne
Moby Dick
was originally billed as a "romance of adventure", and was near completion at the time of their meeting, but within months, his writing was markedly revolutionized. This is attributed to Hawthorne's Anti-Transcendentalist influence
Published in the fall of 1851, and dedicated to Hawthorne,
Moby Dick
was a commercial and critical failure
His next two novels were also unsuccessful, and Melville's work began to reflect his increasing despair and contempt for society's hypocrisy
In all, Melville wrote 10 novels, and several short stories and poems
He was never seen as a literary success in his lifetime; in fact, most of his work was largely forgotten by the time of his death
His work finally received recognition in the 1920's with the posthumous publication of his novel,
Billy Budd
Activist work
In May, 1851, Truth traveled to the Ohio Women's Rights Convention, where she was asked to speak. After much encouragement, Truth delivered an extemporaneous speech, later called "Ain't I a Woman"
Over the next decade, Truth traveled and spoke on behalf of women's rights groups and the growing abolitionist movement
She remained an active member until her death at the age of 86
Later life
After a trip to Europe, Douglass returned to the States and began publishing The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper, funded by money for the purpose of furthering abolition work
Douglass continued speaking and writing on behalf of equality for all, even after The Civil War ended
His wife died in 1882. In 1884 he remarried Helen Pitts, a white woman
In 1895, Douglass spoke at the National Convention of Women in Washington D.C. He died later that evening
Douglass wrote five autobiographies and countless speeches
The Firesides, continued
Full transcript