Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Readings: Americana Unplugged

Featured in the August 4, 2008 issue of The New Yorker magazine is a book review by Judith Thurman of Brenda Wineapple's new critical study White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Included in the review is the following:

As Emerson's friend Samuel Ward observed in a letter to Higginson after reading Dickinson's poems:

She is the quintessence of that element we all have who are of the Puritan descent pur sang. We came to this country to think our own thoughts with nobody to hinder. ...We conversed with our own souls till we lost the art of communicating with other people. The typical family grew up strangers to each other. ...It was awfully high, but awfully lonesome.

This is meant to enhance one's understanding of that strangest of all American geniuses, but I found that it struck a sympathetic chord in me that provided a flash of insight into my subjective place within that particularly stark and flinty American angst that informs the national character.

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