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Heart: A Personal Journey Through Its Myths and Meanings Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 9, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0380977956 ISBN-10: 0380977958 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: WilliamMr; 1st edition (January 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380977958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380977956
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Well known for her many exquisitely crafted and bestselling novels (three, including Violet Clay and A Mother and Two Daughters, were National Book Award finalists), Godwin blends the scholarly and the personal in her first work of nonfiction--a thoroughly researched study of the meaning of the heart in political and religious history, literature and poetry, philosophy, psychology and medicine. Beginning with the first known image of the heart, in a prehistoric cave drawing of an elephant, and the conception of the organ in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which prescribes weighing the hearts of the deceased in judgment of their lives, she shows that heart lore is as old as humankind. Ancient myths and religions alike revered the heart as the seat of wisdom and the home of the soul, until, as Godwin explains, science gained ascendancy during the industrial revolution and assigned a lesser role to the heart than to the brain, as the locus of the mind. Godwin considers literature's representations of the heart's diverse properties, including heartbreak, descents into darkness, "changes of heart," as well as the coldhearted "invalids of eros" who lack any heart at all. Accounts of loss, depression and suicide prompt the author to ask, "Are some of us born with strong hearts, others with fragile ones?" She studies Shakespeare's sonnets as models for modern treatments of love, and the writings of Teresa of Avila and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for their portrayals of religious rapture. Concluding with illustrations of people full of "hospitality of heart," Godwin brings the book full circle, proffering hope for "a coherent culture in which mind and heart are partners, not competitors, in perception." Agent, John Hawkins. (Feb. 14)Forecast: While Godwin's fans will appreciate her occasional references to her characters and the glimpses of her personal life here, her scholarly approach is unlikely to capture the fancy of most of the readers of her novels, despite the publisher's five-city tour and 15-city NPR campaign.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Respected novelist and short story writer Godwin (The Finishing School) combines personal meditations with poignant quotations from world literature to construct a penetrating diary of musings on the human heart's meanings and metaphors. Organized around three rather vague topics, her narrative draws on well-founded data and thought from traditional folklore, mythology, and religion as well as history, psychology, and the fine arts. Quotations from the likes of Shakespeare, Rilke, Bernard Shaw, and Herman Hesse support the text. The result, while intriguing, is a somewhat disconnected work of historical curiosity that wanders without firm definition. Recommended only where demand warrants.
- Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including Unfinished Desires, A Mother and Two Daughters, Violet Clay, Father Melancholy's Daughter, Evensong, The Good Husband, and Evenings at Five. She is also the author of The Making of a Writer: Journals, 1961--1963, the first of two volumes, edited by Rob Neufeld. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has written libretti for ten musical works with the composer Robert Starer. She lives in Woodstock, New York.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Esther R. Nelson on September 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Godwin, best known for her fiction (Father Melancholy's Daughter and Evensong), gives us a change of pace with her book, Heart. She begins by looking at "a painting of a wooly mammoth on a cave wall in Spain [circa 10,000 BCE], showing a red, heart-shaped spot where the beast's heart would naturally be" and ends with Paul Klee's "most striking pictorial representations of the heart." In between, we meet the Buddha--"cool mind and a warm heart" as well as Japan's unique form of poetry, haiku--images that "arise naturally out of the...heart-mind." We come across teaching concerning the heart through Jesus, Mohammad, Confucius, as well as the Upanishads. We learn about the rift that "fractured seventeenth-century thought" as James Hillman reflects, "Thought lost its heart, heart its thought."
Interspersed throughout Heart are anecdotes that give us intimate access into the author's "heart journeys." Godwin's description of her brother's death is telling. "Though the official cause of death was gunshot wounds to the head, I believe my brother Tommy died of a broken heart."
Particularly instructive to me was the section entitled "Absence of Heart/Heartlessness." Gilbert Osmond, a character in Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, illustrates the behavior of somebody "without heart." Gilbert lacks empathy--he is not able to "feel what it's like to want to give someone else something without getting something for it yourself." He appreciates Isabel Archer's efforts to promote his welfare, but doesn't understnad it.
All this and more await the reader in Godwin's ambitious heart-felt work. Her proclivity toward wordiness works better in her fiction, nonetheless, this volume is well worth your investment of time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
the prologue of this book is my favorite part. the author lets us into her world: the death of a beloved pet, a walk in the morning, a vase of flowers. however, subsequent chapters turn colder with straight-arrow reporting of information/research about the "heart" as different cultures and societys see it. i quickly became bored with this "intellectual" style of writing. i wish godwin would've keep to showing us her heart instead of so much of her mind.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D VEILLETTE HAMEL on July 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Heart is a marvelous piece of writing! Every chapter has opened my mind a little more. I am very thankful to Mrs. Godwin for that interesting book. I have learned so many new facts about the different religions of the world. I recommend the reading of "Heart" to everybody curious enough to learn a little more about the persons around us thinking that the heart is important in life. Mrs. Godwin is my favorite author! Thank you for writing "Heart"! Doris VeilletteHamel, Canada
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By west on March 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Disappointing. Though I'm a big Gail Godwin fan, and reread her later novels with delight at least once a year, this one will get put out at my next garage sale. Imagine a monster movie in which the Paralyzingly Tedious High Church Anglican Sermon meets the Deadly First Draft Graduate Thesis. I wish that Godwin had condensed her best heart insights and research into a sermon for a character like her Reverend Margaret Gower, from Evensong, to preach; or a lecture for a character like Magda Danvers, from The Good Husband, to deliver. The book's structure fails. Godwin hops unpredictably between historic characters or events to which she arbitrarily assigns a relationship with the theme of the heart. The treatments of complex historic traditions and world religions are distressingly superficial. Godwin has no command of comparative religion. The conclusions that she draws from one poorly-planned visit to a Buddhist meditation session are shallow. She gallops through Taoism, Shintoism and Confucianism, sweeping up a few easy generalizations about these complex traditions. In the best sections, Godwin writes about what she has obviously pondered longest: the Christian tradition and family relationships. She treats these subjects so well through the medium of fiction, and so clumsily in essays. I look forward to her next novel.
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