Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Culture of Conversation

Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Culture of Conversation

Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Culture of Conversation

Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Culture of Conversation

Synopsis

Peter Gibian explores the key role played by Oliver Wendell Holmes, senior, in what was known as America's "Age of Conversation". Holmes' multivoiced writings can serve as a key to open up the closed interiors of Victorian America, whether in saloons or salons, parlors or clubs, hotels or boarding houses. Combining social, intellectual, medical, legal and literary history with close textual analysis, and setting Holmes in dialoge with Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Fuller and Alcott, Gibian radically redefines the context for our understanding of the major literary works of the American Renaissance.

Excerpt

Holmes' life (1809–94) spanned most of the nineteenth century, and for much of that time he was a household name throughout America, recognized by his contemporaries as a national character, even a national institution. For foreign visitors like William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, or Oscar Wilde, a meeting with the tiny, hyperactive, loquacious Holmes became as much a part of the standard North American tour as a visit to Niagara Falls. Well into the twentieth century, the Holmes name still stood in most people's minds as a loaded, multivalent figure for a diversity of American possibilities. Playing a variety of parts on the national stage, he came to be celebrated as spokesman for and representative personification of American achievements in two very different fields — medicine and literature — and was acclaimed both as a voice of gravity and of levity, a Sage and a Jester, a man of reason and an irrepressible humorist, a neoclassical traditionalist and a free-thinking republican progressive . . .

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