Letters on Dead White Mostly Male Writers in the American 19th Century.
In the forward, Green jokes of having considered and rejected the above title for his collection of letters on Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and Dickinson. It’s appropriate, of course, with six of the seven authors being male and all of them white. A professor of English since 1964, Green doesn’t stick to a tenure track style in these essays–written in the manner of letters addressed to a family member or friend–he weaves an interesting course in and out of this rich literary landscape. Blunt candor and clarity trump lit-crit pretense–the author is simply interested in elaborating on the essences that make each writer worthy of his or her greatness and Green’s admiration. He lays the book’s foundation with transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau, then moves on to the ebullient Whitman, romantic Hawthorn, epic Melville and daunting Dickinson, often providing the proper historical and intellectual context for each writer, as well as how and to what extent they influenced one another. The authors frequently speak for themselves, with Green quoting passages of each work discussed. The author set out on this quixotic adventure in amateurish criticism, and while he might hogtie small works like Thoreau’s â€œOn Civil Disobedience,” he can’t possibly pin down Moby Dick. But that was never Green’s objective. After reading this book, one will likely get the urge to dust off an old copy of Walden or The Scarlet Letter, or set out to a used book store in search of a collection of Emerson’s essays. That was the author’s aim, and he has succeeded.
A critical sampling of important American authors that arouses the appetite.