The Emerson Dilemma: Essays on Emerson and Social Reform

Front Cover
T. Gregory Garvey
University of Georgia Press, 2001 M01 1 - 264 pages
This gathering of eleven original essays with a substantive introduction brings the traditional image of Emerson the Transcendentalist face-to-face with an emerging image of Emerson the reformer. The Emerson Dilemma highlights the conflict between Emerson’s philosophical attraction to solitary contemplation and the demands of activism compelled by the logic of his own writings.

The essays cover Emerson’s reform thought and activism from his early career as a Unitarian minister through his reaction to the Civil War. In addition to Emerson’s antislavery position, the collection covers his complex relationship to the early women’s rights movement and American Indian removal. Individual essays also compare Emerson’s reform ethics with those of his wife, Lidian Jackson Emerson, his aunt Mary Moody, Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, and Margaret Fuller.

The Emerson who emerges from this volume is one whose Transcendentalism is explicitly politicized; thus, we see him consciously mediating between the opposing forces of the world he “thought” and the world in which he lived.


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Mapping Emersons Political Sermons
Emersons Political Spirit and the Problem of Language
and Womans Rights
Part Three Transitions in Antislavery
Emersons Abolition Conversion
Part Four Emersons Thought and the Public Sphere
Toward an Emersonian Theory

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About the author (2001)

T. Gregory Garvey is an associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Brockport. He is editor of The Emerson Dilemma and author of Creating the Culture of Reform in Antebellum America (both Georgia).

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