Building Their Own Waldos

Building Their Own Waldos : Emerson's First Biographers and the Politics of Life-Writing in the Gilded Age

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Description

By the end of the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson was well on his way to becoming the Wisest American and the Sage of Concord, a literary celebrity and a national icon. With that fame came what Robert Habich describes as a blandly sanctified version of Emerson held widely by the reading public. "Building Their Own Waldos" sets out to understand the dilemma faced by Emerson s early biographers: how to represent a figure whose subversive individualism had been eclipsed by his celebrity, making him less a representative of his age than a caricature of it.Drawing on never-before-published letters, diaries, drafts, business records, and private documents, Habich explores the making of a cultural hero through the stories of Emerson s first biographers George Willis Cooke, a minister most recently from Indianapolis who considered himself a disciple; the English reformer and newspaper mogul Alexander Ireland, a friend for half a century; Moncure D. Conway, a Southern abolitionist then residing in London, who called Emerson his spiritual father and intellectual teacher; the poet and medical professor Oliver Wendell Holmes, with Emerson a member of Boston s gathering of literary elite, the Saturday Club; James Elliot Cabot, the family s authorized biographer, an architect and amateur philosopher with unlimited access to Emerson s unpublished papers; and Emerson s son Edward, a physician and painter whose father had passed over him as literary executor in favor of Cabot.Just as their biographies reveal a complex, socially engaged Emerson, so too do the biographers own stories illustrate the real-world perils, challenges, and motives of life-writing in the late nineteenth century, when biographers were routinely vilified as ghoulish and disreputable and biography as a genre underwent a profound redefinition. "Building Their Own Waldos" is at once a revealing look at Emerson s constructed reputation, a case study in the rewards and dangers of Victorian life-writing, and the story of six authors struggling amidst personal misfortunes and shifting expectations to capture the elusive character of America s representative man, as they knew him and as they needed him to be."show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 248 pages
  • 154 x 228 x 16mm | 340.19g
  • University of Iowa Press
  • Iowa, United States
  • English
  • 1587299623
  • 9781587299629

Review quote

" Through remarkable archival research, Robert Habich has demonstrated the ways Emerson s six early biographers each possessed a distinct relationship with Emerson and his family. Each of them wrote his biography from a different perspective not just on Emerson but also on life-writing itself, but all of them responded in some form to the overriding issue for biographers (especially literary biographers) in the 1880s: the relationship between the inner man and the private man, or put another way, the problem of how much of a subject s domestic privacies to reveal in the service or the name of conveying the subject s character. Scott E. Casper, author, Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America ""show more

About Robert D. Habich

Robert D. Habich is a professor of English at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana and President-Elect of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society. He is coauthor (with Robert C. Nowatzki) of "Romanticism and Transcendentalism, 1820 1865," editor of "Lives out of Letters: Essays on American Literary Biography and Documentation in Honor of Robert N. Hudspeth, " and author of "Transcendentalism and the Western Messenger: A History of the Magazine and Its Contributors, 1835 1841.""show more

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