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Manhood and the American Renaissance (Paperback)David Leverenz (author)
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In the view of David Leverenz, such nineteenth-century American male writers as Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman were influenced more profoundly by the popular model of the entrepreneurial "man of force" than they were by their literary precursors and contemporaries. Drawing on the insights of feminist theory, gender studies, psychoanalytical criticism, and social history, Manhood and the American Renaissance demonstrates that gender pressures and class conflicts played as critical a role in literary creation for the male writers of nineteenth-century America as they did for the women writers.
Leverenz interprets male American authors in terms of three major ideologies of manhood linked to the social classes in the Northeast-patrician, artisan, and entrepreneurial. He asserts that the older ideologies of patrician gentility and of artisan independence were being challenged from 1820 to 1860 by the
new middle-class ideology of competitive individualism. The male writers of the American Renaissance, patrician almost without exception in their backgrounds and self-expectations, were fascinated yet horrified by the aggressive materialism and the rivalry for dominance they witnessed in the undeferential "new men." In close readings of the works both of well-known male literary figures and of then popular authors such as Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and Francis Parkman, Leverenz discovers a repressed center of manhood beset by fears of humiliation and masochistic fantasies. He discerns different patterns in the works of Whitman, with his artisan's background, and Frederick Douglass, who rose from artisan freedom to entrepreneurial power.
Emphasizing the interplay of class and gender, Leverenz also considers how women viewed manhood. He concludes that male writers portrayed manhood as a rivalry for dominance, but contemporary female writers saw it as patriarchy. Two chapters contrast the work of the genteel writers Sarah Hale and Caroline Kirkland with the evangelical works of Susan Warner and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
A bold and imaginative work, Manhood and the American Renaissance will enlighten and inspire controversy among all students of American literature, nineteenth-century American history, and the relation of gender and literature.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 384
Weight: 28 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 22 mm
"A significant and strikingly original contribution to our understanding of literature and society in the American Renaissance.... Leverenz views the masterpieces of this era as symptoms of a pervasive cultural malaise in antebellum America, tracing the faults and fractures produced in them by the combined pressures of class consciousness, marketplace economics, and gender ideologies. His close readings of representative texts from the late 1830s through the early 1850s consequently open out to reveal a social reality much darker-and far more distressing to writers struggling to cope with the problems it entailed-than that encountered in virtually any other literary study of the American Renaissance."* Nineteenth-Century Literature *
"A thoughtful analysis of our great American writers of the mid-nineteenth century.... A challenging work that is like a fresh breeze in our current criticism."* Thoreau Society Bulletin *
"David Leverenz discovers deeply troubled meditations on masculinity and class through rich and subtle readings on the literary pantheon of the American Renaissance.... His close readings of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman, among others, show how class and gender became deeply entwined."* The Nation *
"Irreverent, gutsy, brilliant, and illuminating."* Publishers Weekly *
"Leverenz makes a persuasive case for understanding the relation between class and gender as a key to making sense of the major works of mid-nineteenth-century American literature.... He sees the literature of the American Renaissance as wracked by tensions of gender and class traceable principally to the rise of entrepreneurial capitalism.... Under his critical eye, one is able to see how masculinity functions in 'classic' texts as contested terrain, not only in opposition to the construction of women's identity, but as part of class identity as well. Moreover, Leverenz's rhetorical construction of himself in the text plays an important part of the persuasiveness of his argument. It is a construction which self-consciously points to the incorporation of bourgeois ideals of manhood in academic prose and acts to undermine them."* American Quarterly *
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