Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History

Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History

by Phyllis Cole
     
 

Mary Moody Emerson has long been a New England legend, the "eccentric Calvinist aunt" of Ralph Waldo Emerson, wearing a death-shroud as her daily garment. This exciting new study, based on the first reading of all her known letters and diaries, reveals a complex human voice and powerful forerunner of American Transcendentalism. From the years of her

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Overview

Mary Moody Emerson has long been a New England legend, the "eccentric Calvinist aunt" of Ralph Waldo Emerson, wearing a death-shroud as her daily garment. This exciting new study, based on the first reading of all her known letters and diaries, reveals a complex human voice and powerful forerunner of American Transcendentalism. From the years of her famous nephew's infancy, in both private and published writings, she celebrated independence, solitude in nature, and inward communion with God.

Mary Moody Emerson inherited both resources and constraints from her family, a lineage of Massachusetts ministers who had earlier practiced spiritual awakening and political resistance against England. Cole discovers a previously unexamined Emerson tradition of fervent piety in the ancestors' own writing and Mary's preservation of their memory. She also examines the position of a woman in this patriarchal family. Barred from the pulpit and university by her sex, she also refused marriage to become a reader, writer, and religious seeker.

Cole's biography explores this reading and writing as both a woman's vocation and a gift to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Helping to raise her nephews after their father's death, Mary Moody Emerson urged Waldo the college student to seek solitude in nature and become a divine poet. Cole's pioneering study, tracing crucial lines of influence from Mary Emerson's heretofore unknown texts to her nephew's major works, establishes a fresh and vital source for a central American literary tradition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Cole's informed, carefully crafted writing makes for pleasurable reading. She does a service in telling the story of this important but obscure figure in American life and thought....Recommended for all academic collections."—Choice

"A multi- lensed and sourced, pulsing, living recreation of the Emerson family and its first genius, Mary Moody Emerson. More than an intertwined major contribution to literature, history, biography, and philosophy, this book is an original and first-time- ever detailing of how genius born into a female body in a certain time and place nevertheless transcends constriction through brilliant words, being, and action. Wondrous."—Tillie Olsen

"This is a grand, wide-ranging book about a great woman, Mary Moody Emerson, who was a founder of Transcendentalism, the earliest and best teacher of R.W. Emerson, and a spirited and original genius in her own right. Phyllis Cole's deeply researched book gives us both Mary Emerson's background and her life. This book adds a whole new context, a new methodology, and above all a wonderful new figure to American literature."—Robert D. Richardson, Jr. author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind and Emerson: The Mind on Fire

"Feminist archaeology at its most impressive, Phyllis Cole's Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism recovers a woman of extraordinary intellect. An heir to New England Puritanism, Emerson infused that legacy with a powerful Romanticism. Companion and critic to her nephew Ralph Waldo Emerson, she became a primary source for his celebrated individualism. Bringing an interpretive originality to all these traditions, the female Emerson can now take her rightful place as a signal contributor to the New England Renaissance."—Mary Kelley, Dartmouth College

"Both a biography and an account of an intellectual and spiritual journey, this text under Phyllis Cole's careful scholarship unfolds the significance of Mary Moody Emerson to American History and American philosophy. This is an important advance in retelling Emersonian history and excellent preparation for further research into Mary Moody Emerson as woman philosopher."—Therese B. Dykeman, Fairfield University

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195039498
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
02/28/1998
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile:
1390L (what's this?)

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