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Emerson among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait Hardcover – April 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (April 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067086675X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670866755
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,285,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An abundance of little-known details and disclosures graces Carlos Baker's last work of literary criticism, bringing to life not only Ralph Waldo Emerson the man, but also a whole cultural milieu known for its brilliance, artistic flowering, and progressive thinking. The portrait of Emerson emerges as if through a mosaic. We see him primarily through the eyes of others--their letters and journal entries--reminding readers that Emerson did not exist in a vacuum. The eccentrics of the title include such Concord transcendentalists as Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Bronson Alcott, as well as many prominent intellectuals of the day (Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and the abolitionist John Brown). Many will find the details of this venerable American life familiar--the impoverished boyhood and physical fragility, the breaking from orthodoxy as a clergyman, and the tragic loss of a spouse--but most readers will enjoy the complex picture of the man pieced together through his friendships. Emerson's prickly but persevering relationship with Margaret Fuller is described in both of their letters and journals, rounding out an often one-sided account. Fuller was a brilliant, self-assured, thoroughly modern woman--a trait that would continue to repel and baffle Emerson throughout the long life of their friendship; for that, he seemed never quite able to forgive her.

Still, Emerson redeemed himself with his revolutionary break from European culture and the calcified thoughts of those who preceded him. His was a unique and inimitable independence that would come to characterize American intellectualism; however, the stubborn optimism that would taint Emersonian philosophy still lingers.

Famed literary critic Carlos Baker, who died in 1987, has left a substantial yet thoroughly engaging antidote to our often craven, corrupt, corporate-driven world. Emerson Among the Eccentrics recreates both the voices and visions of one of America's most distinguished and accomplished cultural periods. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This painterly, highly accessible and penetrating study of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and his milieu was close to completion when Baker (Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story) died in 1987. Oddly truncated, it begins with Emerson's 28th year and lacks a well-rounded conclusion. Yet by focusing on the social Emerson, Baker shapes a more nuanced portrait of the American Renaissance poet, essayist and thinker than Robert Richardson's Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995), which gave more weight to Emerson's intellectual side. The eccentrics of Baker's title are the idiosyncratic community of friends and family in Concord, Boston and Lennox, Mass., and in New York-the "veritable host of hobgoblins and nightbirds," in Hawthorne's satirical phrase-who perpetually surrounded Emerson. These included his bristly, paradoxical neighbor, Henry Thoreau; the mad poet, Jones Very; Margaret Fuller, whose many ardent, unrequited infatuations included Emerson; and Walt Whitman, "who cultivated eccentricity as if he had a patent on it." Quoting from the journals and letters of Emerson and his contemporaries, Baker sketches these and other mystics, poets and radicals over whom Emerson presided as an agent of stability, a householder and husband, an intellectually eclectic counselor, sage and critic, forever torn between the pull of society and a need for solitude. Baker's narrative is a lively balancing act, full of evocative set pieces, houses, landscapes and well-drawn scenes of intellectual contretemps.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on September 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
In the Epilogue, Carlos Baker writes, "Biography is the study of the whole man in the context of time." Strange, then, that Baker's biography of Emerson begins when Emerson was already in his late twenties. One wonders what happened to Emerson during his first three decades. Nevertheless, Emerson Among the Eccentrics is well worth your time.
In Chapter 31, Baker describes the decision, by Emerson, James Freeman Clarke, and W. H. Channing to write a biography of the late Margaret Fuller, "America's first feminist," who drowned at sea on a return tour of Europe. Emerson, writes Baker, "was certain that whoever undertook the task must pay the closest attention to the personalities who had surrounded Margaret. 'Leave them out,' said he, 'and you leave our Margaret.'"
Emerson's perceptive insight about writing Margaret Fuller's biography is taken to heart by Carlos Baker. His thesis is that one cannot know Ralph Waldo Emerson without paying the closest attention to the personalities who had surrounded him. Therefore, Emerson Among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait is a biography not only of Emerson, but also of numerous others with whom he associated, such as Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Ellery Channing, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Bronson Alcott, Jones Very, Theodore Parker, and Herman Melville.
The most famous of the New England "Transcendentalists," Emerson resigned his position as a clergyman when his first wife died.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read this book after final exams for some reason Emerson and the whole American Renassiance mystic was calling to me...I finished the novel packed my bags and drove straight to Concord, Mass...The tour guides at the various sites I visited where perplexed by my numerous inquires...This book drove such a desire in me to learn and love literature from that period...Well worth the time and the read...and make every effort to visit Concord when your done it adds to the experience...
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
As its title suggests, this scrupulously researched tome portrays Emerson as perhaps the most stable and secure (and kindly) among a group of eccentric, sometimes borderline crazy writers and thinkers. A must for any interested in the transcendental movement, or in perhaps its most distinguished man of letters.
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By BOB on November 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
When I decided to read this book I violated my own rule to attempt to read most of an author's works before embarking on a biography of the author. However, the subject matter of this book encompassed a great intersection of cultural pioneers, all living at one time or other within a small territorial radius. Emerson was at the center of this cluster, which also included Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott (whose daughter Louisa May's eccentric upbringing formed the mulch for her novel `Little Women') and others whose works did not survive their century as well--Margaret Fuller, Ellery Channing. This fertile cultural climate, even affecting peripheral literary figures such as Herman Melville, Walt Whitman and Henry James, seemed to have played a very significant role in the developing thought of the United States of the nineteenth century.

I needn't have worried about not having read much of Emerson's works. Although compelling enough as an account of the relationships of these diverse and fascinating individuals, it is sorely lacking in the area of focus on Emerson's writing. My impression was that Emerson has always been regarded more highly in American literature for his significance as an essayist than as a poet. Where in this book are those memorable phrases the `mute gospel', `the infinite lies stretched in smiling repose,' `a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds'? There is hardly a mention of essays such as "Self-Reliance" or "The Over-soul". Yet Baker spends three pages quoting from later poems of Emerson's and even includes the quotes from Wordsworth that inspired them. Also lacking in this book is the significance of Emerson's sermon repudiating the last supper as a sacrament.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is perhaps the best thing I have read regarding Emerson in the context of his friends.

I recommend it to everyone and anyone.

I also recommend the 30 lectures on CD about Transcendentalism by the professor from Dickinson College, whose name I don't recall.

Bruce Byrolly

Cambridge MD

Dec. 1, 2010
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