Consciousness and Culture

Emerson and Thoreau Reviewed

Joel Porte

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Emerson and Thoreau are the most celebrated odd couple of nineteenth-century American literature. Appearing to play the roles of benign mentor and eager disciple, they can also be seen as bitter rivals: America’s foremost literary statesman, protective of his reputation, and an ambitious and sometimes refractory protégé. The truth, Joel Porte maintains, is that Emerson and Thoreau were complementary literary geniuses, mutually inspiring and inspired.
In this book of essays, Porte focuses on Emerson and Thoreau as writers. He traces their individual achievements and their points of intersection, arguing that both men, starting from a shared belief in the importance of “self-culture,” produced a body of writing that helped move a decidedly provincial New England readership into the broader arena of international culture. It is a book that will appeal to all readers interested in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau.

Joel Porte is Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters, Cornell University. He has written extensively on American Renaissance figures and is the author of Emerson and Thoreau: Transcendentalists in Conflict and Representative Man: Ralph Waldo Emerson in His Time, among other books.

“No one writes about Emerson and Thoreau with the vitality and wit of Joel Porte. These essays, the collected produce of one of our premier critics, are as fresh and bracing as when they first appeared.”—Alan D. Hodder, author of Thoreau’s Ecstatic Witness

"Porte’s concentration on Emerson as writer is not so common an approach as it may seem; balanced against the way in which Emerson is conventionally considered—as philosopher, as aphorist, as cultural icon—Porte’s keen attention to the quality of the prose itself and the artfulness of an essay’s organization yields rewarding and highly readable results."—Larzer Ziff, Johns Hopkins University

“A fine, learned, and spirited book by the recognized authority on his subject.”—Larzer Ziff, Johns Hopkins University

"His essays are like Thoreau’s sauntering, invitations to follow an acute and learned scholar to places you had not visited with such a guide. What this collection ’adds up’ to, then, is forty-five years worth of rumination on two of this country’s finest minds by someone eminently suited to investigate them in all their varied complexity."—Philip F. Gura, William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Highly recommended.”—Choice

"It is by 'working both sides of the street,' the earthly and the speculative, that Porte succeeds in remaining a most pertinent commentator on these two writers. . . . The great value of Porte's work on Emerson and Thoreau is its capaciousness, its ability to affirm both the skeptic and the believer in unity."—Joseph Kronick, New England Quarterly

"We should be grateful to Porte for his tremendous contributions to our understanding of the many facets of the Transcendentalists, and seek to follow his example by perpetually making our most beloved authors new."—Leslie E. Eckel, Emerson Society Papers
ISBN: 9780300104462
Publication Date: July 11, 2004
256 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
1 b/w illus.