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

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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Cabot, the family s authorized biographer, an architect and amateur philosopher with unlimited access to Emerson s unpublished papers; and Emerson s son Edward, a physician and painter whose father had passed over him as literary executor in favor of Cabot.Just as their biographies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."
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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 "" " "Building Their Own Waldos" is American literary scholarship at its finest. Working mostly from a large range of previously untapped sources, Bob Habich tells the story of the first six biographies of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Almost everything about this story is new and all of it is fascinating; Habich writes extremely well, and he has fresh things to say about Emerson, about the state of biographical art in the 1880s, and about the growth of the American cult of celebrity. This is an important, appealing book. I read it straight through one afternoon, skipping supper without noticing or minding. Robert D. Richardson, author, "First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process" and "Emerson: The Mind on Fire" "" ""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" """Building Their Own Waldos" is American literary scholarship at its finest. Working mostly from a large range of previously untapped sources, Bob Habich tells the story of the first six biographies of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Almost everything about this story is new and all of it is fascinating; Habich writes extremely well, and he has fresh things to say about Emerson, about the state of biographical art in the 1880s, and about the growth of the American cult of celebrity. This is an important, appealing book. I read it straight through one afternoon, skipping supper without noticing or minding."--Robert D. Richardson, author, "First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process" and "Emerson: The Mind on Fire" "
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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.""
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