Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Politics and Skepticism in Antebellum American Literature

Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Politics and Skepticism in Antebellum American Literature

Article excerpt

Politics and Skepticism in Antebellum American Literature. By Dominic Mastroianni. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2014. 232 pp. $94.99 cloth.

Dominic Mastroianni's Politics and Skepticism in Antebellum American Literature represents one of the most promising book debuts in 19th-century American Studies in recent years and rethinks the political realm as emanating from shifting "moods" and "secret causes" that authors as diverse as Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, and Jacobs are only partially aware of in their own writings. Before the five-part study of these authors, including a Jacobs and Douglass conclusion on fire imagery and its ability to inflame readers of their two slave narratives, Mastroianni begins with a dense introduction on the intellectual history of the concept of 'secrets' in literary theory and the continental tradition, including Immanuel Kant's understanding of objects outside of cognitive knowledge still being part of subject's "intuition" (13). But the strength of Politics and Skepticism lies in the fresh perspective that Mastroianni brings to each author through a variety of texts, particularly in his most successful chapter, that is, on Emerson's contrasting moods in the essay "Experience" (1844) and the lesser-known lecture "Reform" (1860), among other works.

Mastroianni's nuanced reading of "Experience" finds that the suddenness and succession of moods "is always unforeseeable" while also being linked to democratic citizenship (37). In fact, the strength of his readings, as with a later chapter on Dickinson that rethinks the final poem in Fascicle 24 as an analogy for dead bodies on a Civil War burial ground (160), is his consideration of poems, essays, and other fictional and nonfictional works as distinctly commenting upon the political, historical and social realm, ranging from such diverse events as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (Dickinson) to the French "Sunday Revolution" of 1848 (Melville). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.