Waldo Emerson by Gay Wilson Allen (1981-10-29) Hardcover – January 1, 1603
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- ASIN : B01K15W2ZE
- Publisher : Viking Adult (January 1, 1603)
- Customer Reviews:
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Among the highlights of Allen's massive study is a thorough revision of Emerson's career based on several thousand letters discovered after Ralph Rusk wrote the previous major biography in 1949. Allen explores the relevant biographical details, such as Emerson's bipolar relationship with his devout aunt Mary, whom he adored in spite of her "huge alloy of theology and metaphysics" and who, as Allen puts it, "could instantly make herself repulsive." Also important to any study of Emerson are his idolization of his first wife, who died young, and the fragile nature of his second marriage.
Allen also examines the philosopher's intellectual development: his fascination with science and how it influenced his thinking, the influence of Neoplatonism and Swedenborg on his early essays, his passion for Sanskrit mystical writings, and his anticipation of the principles espoused by Freud and William James. And the author is not hesitant to point out Emerson's faults and occasional incoherence. But perhaps the most intriguing and thorough aspect of this biography is the depiction of Emerson's decades-long friendship and correspondence with Thomas Carlyle.
Readers will come away from this 700-page volume with a greater understanding of Emerson's influences, his essays and speeches, his poetry, and his life--particularly before 1850. Allen leaves a relatively short portion of this massive work (about 100 pages) to the last thirty years of Emerson's life, including the events of the Civil War and his travels to Europe, Egypt, and the American West. (Richardson's biography, too, crams this period in an even briefer couple of chapters.) Granted, most of Emerson's major work had been published by 1860, and his later years were spent largely resting on his laurels and refining and revisiting his earlier themes; one could say uncharitably that his major preoccupation was his legacy. But he was still quite active until the frailty of the final few years of his life, especially in politics, and the biography detailing Emerson's life after he turned fifty has yet to be written.
I have also read and thoroughly enjoyed Robert Richardson's biography of Emerson, however, Gay Wilson Allen's book is still the "sine qua non" of Emerson biographies. But don't believe me,... read it for yourself. I promise that you will not be disappointed.