GOD AND THE AMERICAN WRITER by Alfred Kazin

GOD AND THE AMERICAN WRITER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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 post-Civil 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.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1997
ISBN: 0679733418
Page count: 259pp
Publisher: Knopf