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God and the American Writer Paperback – October 27, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0679733416 ISBN-10: 0679733418 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (October 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679733418
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679733416
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,514,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Arthur Miller, who has wrestled an angel or two of his own, had this to say about Kazin's literary/theological project, God and the American Writer: "The American writer's struggles to reject, accept, sublimate, or ignore God is the stem around which Kazin has wound his fascinating insights into the works of our masters. It is a profound pleasure to read such inspired good sense." This praise is especially merited by his writing about the poets Emily Dickinson (Kazin writes about the "power and depth of her solitude"), and Walt Whitman (whose rowdy, sexual, corporeal, and pantheistic poetry, Kazin says, sought to "rescue religion by replacing it"). Whitman and Dickinson are, in many ways, the yin and yang of American approaches to spirituality. To create literature is to engage reality, to try to wrest some truth from the particulars of a life. This is an almost inevitably religious undertaking, and Kazin shows how that struggle informs the work of America's greatest writers, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, and T. S. Eliot. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Writing with his usual stylistic verve and penetration, Kazin examines our great authors' uneasy but self-sufficient sense of God. In his fifth decade of producing criticism, Kazin masterfully continues the old-fashioned, demanding critical tradition of intimately reading the great works and grounding an analysis of them in a sense of history and biography. Like his survey of nature in American letters, A Writer's America: Landscape in Literature (1988), this new work is a focused retracing of manifestations of our country's brand of Protestantism, typically Calvinist, in the works of major writers, from Hawthorne's struggles with his Puritan inheritance to Faulkner's God-forsaken vision of the postCivil War South. Kazin is not out to reassess his familiar subjects-- Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, etc.--in any radical fashion, however passionately he writes about them. Nor, in his august manner, does he acknowledge much previous critical writing, even, most obviously, Van Wyck Brooks on Puritanism, Twain, or Emerson. Often, basic close readings are the chief matter, such as of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and Dickinson's poetry. When he finds a good anecdote or quote, he is apt to repeat it for its own sake, to say nothing of his dropping of eminent names. Deflating memories of the elderly Robert Frost in his egotistical, hoary-Yankee mode caustically pervade an examination of the poet's complex views of human existence and natural design. Conversely, Kazin musters a stirring, fervently moral tone to take on the religious watershed of abolitionism and the Civil War, encompassing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (``New England's last holiness'') and Lincoln's remarkable Second Inaugural Address on divine providence. Often more ecstatic than analytic, still this is an intensely erudite rereading of American authors' varieties of religious experience. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
The famous American critic, Alfred Kazin, explores in this book various ideas of God and religion in the works of major American writers. The book is not limited to novelists but includes considerations of poets, essayists, philosophers, and Presidents as well. The book begins with the Puritan period of Jonathan Edwards and Anne Bradstreet and concludes with a glance at Thomas Pynchon and John Updike. There are chapters on Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Melville Whitman, Lincoln, Dickinson, William James, Mark Twain, T.S. Elliot, Frost, and Faulkner.
Although the book describes many American approaches to religion, it is not until near its end that Kazin offers something of a definition of what he thinks the search is about. Kazin writes (p. 236) "I think of religion as the most intimate expression of the human heart, as the most secret of personal confessions, where we admit to ourselves alone our fears and our losses, our sense of holy dread and our awe before the unflagging power of a universe that regards us as indeed of 'no account'". It is not surprising, given both the nature of his subject matter and Kazin's own understanding of it, that the book invites us to see religion in personal, noninstitutional terms. We are also warned away (see p. 141) from an "American Civil Religion" in which Americans worship their own culture and history as evidenced by a smug materialism.
There is a great emphasis in the book, as there should be, on slavery, the Civil War and continuing issues of race in America. Here Kazin gives Abraham Lincoln the strongest word, as a leader, a writer, and a religious thinker. Lincoln was a nonchurchgoer and was not religious in any traditional sense.
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Format: Paperback
A lot of what I have read about Kazin the man, especially since his 1999 death, conveys that he could be a very difficult man to be around for any period of time. Still that doesn't detract from the fact that he was one of our finest writers during the 20th century who just happened to love literature like life. In this book, his last major undertaking, he fittingly relates the writings of his favorite Americans to God and depicts so much of the drama of their struggles- whether it be the 2 James brothers confronting their own diverging realities, or Abe Lincoln leading this country through the most evil period of its then short history. It was an immensely pleasurable and illuminating reading experience and a book, like the other Kazins on my shelves, that I shall return to.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jerrol on March 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kazin was an insightful critic of American literature, but his knowledge of American religious history and theology is deficient. A better title for this book would be: "Musings on Selected American Authors."
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Burgess on June 12, 1998
Format: Hardcover
What do such diverse writers as Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Lincoln, Eliot, William James, Twain, Frost, and Faulkner have in common? Alfred Kazin maintains that it is a creativity born of each writer's inner turmoil over the issue of slavery. Whether God has anything to do with it is debatable, unless, of course, one is satisfied with understanding God as merely a synonym for the individual moral conscience. I'm not. But this does seem to be the underlying assumption of Kazin's book.
Anyway, Kazin's point is taken. And it is left for the reader to decide if he's right.
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