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In recent years, formalist and deconstructive approaches to literary studies have been under attack, charged by critics with isolating texts as distinctive aesthetic or linguistic objects, separate from their social and historical contexts. Historicist and cultural approaches have often responded by simply reversing the picture, reducing texts to no more than superstructural effects of historical or ideological forces. In Writing Revolution, Peter J. Bellis explores the ways in which literature can engage with - rather than escape from or obscure - social and political issues. Bellis argues that a number of nineteenth-century American writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, saw their texts as spaces where alternative social and cultural possibilities could be suggested and explored. All writing in the same historical moment, Bellis's subjects were responding to the same cluster of issues: the need to redefine American identity after the Revolution, the problem of race slavery, and the growing industrialization of American society. Hawthorne, Bellis contends, sees the romance as ""neutral territory"" where the Imaginary and the Actual - the aesthetic and the historical - can interpenetrate and address crucial issues of class, race, and technological modernity. Whitman conceives of Leaves of Grass as a transformative democratic space where all forms of meditation, both political and literary, are swept away. Thoreau oscillates between these two approaches. Walden, like the romance, aims to fashion a mediating space between nature and society. His abolitionist essays, however, shift sharply away from both linguistic representation and the political, toward an apocalyptic cleansing violence. In addition to covering selected works by Hawthorne, Whitman, and Thoreau, Bellis also examines powerful works of social and political critique by Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller. With its suggestions for new ways of reading antebellum American writing, Writing Revolution breaks through the thickets of contemporary literary discourse and will spark debate in the literary community.

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Choice Review

In this ambitious study, Bellis (Univ. of Miami) revisits three 19th-century American literary masters. Looking at these writers through a revisionist lens, he examines how each explores the dynamic relationship between literature and politics in a unique and instructive way. Bellis argues that each author used his art to rewrite the notion of American democracy and, by extension, to foster political change. Although the subject of this book is not a new one--critics including F.O. Matthiessen, Larzer Ziff, Irving Howe, David Reynolds, and Walter Benn Michaels and Donald Pease have examined writers of the American renaissance at length--Bellis makes it his own by arguing that Hawthorne, Whitman, and Thoreau viewed their texts as forums for the testing of alternative cultural and intellectual possibilities. By exploring the subtext of Hawthorne's "romances," the democratic agenda of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and the wide range of Thoreau's artistry, from his philosophical ponderings in Walden to his pro-abolitionist tracts, Bellis makes a compelling argument for the extent to which these 19th-century writers engaged matters of political, cultural, and social significance. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. D. D. Knight SUNY College at Cortland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introduction: The Eighteenth Brumaire and the Magic Lanternp. 1
Part 1. Hawthorne
1. Hawthorne's Drama of Revoltp. 17
2. Mauling Governor Pyncheonp. 30
3. Moonshine and Masqueradep. 51
Part 2. Whitman
4. Whitman in 1855: Against Representationp. 69
5. 1856 and Afterp. 102
Part 3. Thoreau
6. To Reconcile the People and the Stonesp. 121
7. Division and Revengep. 142
Conclusion: Civil Warsp. 153
Notesp. 179
Bibliographyp. 203
Indexp. 213