Reimagining Thoreau

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Cambridge University Press, 1995 M03 31 - 237 pages
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Reimagining Thoreau is a major reconsideration of Thoreau's career from his graduation from Harvard in 1837 to his death in 1862. Combining biographical and manuscript evidence with a fresh reading of nearly all of Thoreau's texts, Robert Milder focuses on the drama of psychosocial adjustment occurring within and beneath the written work. Rooted in the microcosm of ante-bellum Concord but also in the private urgencies of his nature, Thoreau's writings, in Milder's view, are rhetorical efforts to mediate his troubled relations with his fellow townsmen and to inscribe and thereby realize an ideal self. At the center of Reimagining Thoreau is the first detailed interpretation of Walden as a temporally layered text that changed as Thoreau himself changed during the years of composition and whose shifts and discontinuities suggest a subtler, more conflicted story than the myth of triumph Thoreau deliberately shaped. Milder also looks beyond Walden to counter the traditional view of Thoreau's "decline". His discussion of the late natural-history essays is not only one of the fullest we have; it completes Milder's reconfiguration of Thoreau's career, which is neither a parabola whose vertex is Walden nor a continuous line, but a rising arc with periodic disruptions and recommencements, constant only in its impulse toward ascent.

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