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New England Beyond Criticism: In Defense of America s First Literature

ISBN: 978-1-118-85453-2
332 pages
June 2014
New England Beyond Criticism: In Defense of America s First Literature (1118854535) cover image

Timely and beautifully written, New England Beyond Criticism provides a passionate defense of the importance of the literature of New England to the American literary canon, and its impact on the development of spirituality, community, and culture in America.

  • An exploration and defense of the prominence of New England’s literary tradition within the canon of American literature
  • Traces the impact of the literature of New England on the development of spirituality, community, and culture in America
  • Includes in-depth studies of work from authors and poets such as William Bradford, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau, Susan Howe, and Marilynne Robinson
  • Examines the place and impression of New England literature in the nation’s intellectual history and the lives of its readers
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Acknowledgments vii

1 Introduction: New England Beyond Criticism 1

Part I Excitations: Protestant Ups and Downs 21

2 Variety as Religious Experience: Four Case Studies: Dickinson, Edwards, Taylor, and Cotton 23

3 The Popularity of Doom: From Wigglesworth, Poe, and Stowe through The Da Vinci Code 47

4 “I Take—No Less than Skies—”: Dickinson’s Flights 75

Part II Congregations: Rites of Assembly 103

5 Lost in the Woods Again: Coming Home to Wilderness in Bradford, Thoreau, Frost, and Bishop 105

6 Growing Up a Goodman: Hawthorne’s Way 140

7 “Shall Not Perish from the Earth”: The Counting of Souls in Jewett, Du Bois, E.A. Robinson, and Frost 160

8 Disinheriting New England: Robert Lowell’s Reformations 201

Part III Matriculations: In Academic Terms 225

9 Winter at the Corner of Quincy and Harvard: The Brothers James 227

10 Upon a Peak in Beinecke: The Beauty of the Book in the Poetry of Susan Howe 235

11 Balm for the Prodigal: Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead 265

12 A Fable for Critics: Autobiographical Epilogue 279

Index 308

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Elisa New is Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature and Language at Harvard University. She is the author of The Regenerate Lyric: Theology and Innovation in American Poetry (2009), Jacob’s Cane: A Jewish Family’s Journey From the Four Lands of Lithuania to the Ports of London and Baltimore (2009 and 2011), andThe Lines Eye: Poetic Experience, American Sight (1999).

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"Elisa New is a refreshing voice among critics and historians of literature. She has a keen sense of the nature of New England and its deep spiritual resources, reaching back to the Puritans, moving through the great nineteenth-century expressions of interior landscapes and visions. Her readings strike me as passionate, original, and very much at odds with a good deal that is now being said in academic circles.  To say she is eccentric means, quite literally, that she stands outside of the center. In this, she seems in keeping with her Puritan fathers and mothers, those dark visionaries who gave birth to Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, and others. This is a book I welcome and celebrate."
—Jay Parini, Middlebury College


“Elisa New's book is a remarkable achievement.  It is very rare that a critic manages to ask what seem exactly the right questions, then to answer them in a lively and brilliant and evocative and supremely intelligent prose.”
Charles F. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley

“Lisa New's book is a remarkable achievement. It is very rare that a critic manages to ask what seem exactly the right questions, then to answer them in a lively and brilliant and evocative and supremely intelligent prose. New recognizes the force of criticism's critiques of traditional claims for the importance of New England writing in the shaping of America's images of itself. But she also recognizes how criticism tends to be limited by its academic protocols, so it cannot fully address the urgency of this writing to appeal to the full human being, hungry for meaning and idealization and passion challenged continually by that social reality on which the critics concentrate. New develops a critical stance fully responsive to what she calls the texts' "powers" as they seek to come to terms with demands for conversion, challenges to imagine how people produce values, and the constant worry that these very ambitions may lead imaginations to cross borders where terror seems the dominant affective register.”
Charles F. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley

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