The Emerson Brothers: A Fraternal Biography in Letters

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The Emerson Brothers: A Fraternal Biography in Letters is a narrative and epistolary biography drawn from the unpublished lifelong correspondence exchanged among four brothers: Charles Chauncy, Edward Bliss, Ralph Waldo, and William Emerson. This is an extensive correspondence, for not counting Waldo's previously published letters, there are 768 letters exchanged among the brothers and an additional 483 unpublished letters from the brothers to their aunt Mary Moody Emerson, mother Ruth Haskins Emerson, and ...

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Overview

The Emerson Brothers: A Fraternal Biography in Letters is a narrative and epistolary biography drawn from the unpublished lifelong correspondence exchanged among four brothers: Charles Chauncy, Edward Bliss, Ralph Waldo, and William Emerson. This is an extensive correspondence, for not counting Waldo's previously published letters, there are 768 letters exchanged among the brothers and an additional 483 unpublished letters from the brothers to their aunt Mary Moody Emerson, mother Ruth Haskins Emerson, and Charles' fiancée Elizabeth Hoar, among others.

While lesser figures might have faltered under the burden of having been born an Emerson, with social, political, and ecclesiastic roots extending back to the first century of New England settlement, the brothers' letters reveal that all were invigorated by a shared sense of origin and aspired to make a significant reputation for themselves. Across six richly developed chapters, the signal events and friendships that shaped the Emerson brothers' lives are strung together to reveal a remarkable family culture. For the first time, The Emerson Brothers treats the illustrious history of the Emerson family in America as a foreshadowing of expectations the brothers inherited; defines the extent of Waldo's debt to William for his encounter with German Biblical Criticism; develops Charles' and Edward's incredibly promising but ultimately tragic lives; examines the profound emotional and intellectual impact of Aunt Mary on the younger Emersons; considers the three-year courtship between Charles and Elizabeth Hoar in the context of Waldo's own marriages; and studies the brothers' preoccupation with financial security for "the family" (revealing, too, that finances were at least as powerful a motivation behind Waldo's 1832 resignation from Boston's Second Church as were the death of his first wife and his religious doubts).

This biography approaches Waldo's inner life in a way that makes him a figure to imagine personally by portraying him in relation to his brothers who are his intellectual equals. It offers an imaginative social and cultural history of one of our oldest and most gifted families, unique players in a period often considered to be the "American Renaissance."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This 'biography in letters' supplements the traditional biographical narrative with letters taken from a vast body of correspondence, resulting in a study that refuses to single out the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, providing instead a portrait of an illustrious nineteenth-century family."—American Literature

"Combining exacting editing skills with balanced historical judgment, Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson have produced another distinguished volume based on the extraordinarily rich outpouring of Emerson and his circle.... In The Emerson Brothers, the specialist will discover much that is new, and the nonspecialist will certainly appreciate scholarship that is graceful and reflective of the time before critical theory and polemical rhetoric began dominating narrative. The authors have performed yet another vital service to transcendental studies."—Kenneth S. Sacks, The New England Quarterly

"We know the Emerson of the poems, essays, and journals, but the letters published in this biography for the first time present not only a man with a different voice, but also a mind creating itself through the epistolary form.... These fascinating letters include not only correspondence among the brothers but also between them and their formidable aunt, Mary Moody Emerson (Waldo called her a genius), their mother, the much beloved Ruth Haskins Emerson, and Charles's fiancee, Elizabeth Hoar.... Emerson discovered a personal appeal in the moral value of a life, played out against one's obligations to the past and present, to the family, and to the self.... Ronald Bosco and Joel Myerson are to be commended for reviving that singular sense of majesty. Their book presents not only a novel way of reintegrating Emerson into the world out of which he arose, but also an inspiring evocation of biography itself as the way to illuminate the secret sanctuary of the self."—The New York Sun

"Through this epistolary biography one glimpses for the first time one of America's great intellectual families, which can be ranked alongside the Adams, Lowells, and James families. This collection of more than 1,200 unpublished letters exchanged among the four Emerson brothers and a few other family members reveals 19th-century America through the eyes of a cultured, intelligent, self-conscious group of people who shared a unique heritage and set of values.... Bosco and Myerson intersperse among the quoted letters a rich analytical narrative.... Essential." —Choice

"This volume of hitherto unpublished letters takes us to the heart of nineteenth-century American intellectual history and illuminates as never before the family relationships that produced the extraordinary Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although seemingly the American individual personified, in large measure the sage of Concord became such through interaction with his extraordinary siblings. The Emerson Brothers reveals as never before what it meant to be a part of one of America's first families."—Philip F. Gura, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"The author's fundamental thesis, that a family culture formed Ralph Waldo Emerson's work, is a valuable corrective to generations of interest in his engagement only with traditional literary and philosophical sources. This 'fraternal biography' reveals Waldo's inner life in a fresh, relational way."—Phyllis Cole, author of Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Trancendentalism

"Original, exciting scholarship by two accomplished, pioneering critics and editors."—William E. Cain, Mary Jewett Gaiser Professor of English, Wellesley College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195140361
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/1/2005
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald A. Bosco is Distinguished University Professor of English and American Literature at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and General Editor for The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harvard University Press. Joel Myerson is Carolina Distinguished Professor of American Literature, Emeritus, at the University of South Carolina, and Textual Editor for The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harvard University Press.

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Table of Contents

1. "What poems are many private lives": The Emerson Brothers
2. William in Germany
3. Edward and Charles
4. Aunt Mary and the Brothers Emerson
5. Charles and Elizabeth
6. William and Waldo: Finances and Family
Notes
Index

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