The Grass Lark: A Study of Lafcadio Hearn

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Overview

It is remarkable how persistent a "minor" writer may be. He may lack the large vision and universal message of the great writer, but instead possess a clear, true, intense view of particular places, peoples, and situations that renders his work unique and irreplacable. Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) is such a figure in American literature. Best known as a scholar of Japanese culture, Hearn was a remarkable journalist, translator, travel writer, and perhaps second only to Poe in the literature of the macabre and supernatural. Hearn's life, as strange and colorful as his work, is brilliantly recounted in Elizabeth Stevenson's sensitive and sympathetic biography.

The range of Hearn's writing is reflected in the peripatetic course of his life. The son of an Irish father and a Greek mother, he was born on the Ionian island of Leucadia, was raised in Dublin, and came to America at the age of nineteen. His early career was spent as a journalist. Without a trace of condescension or pity he entered into the lives of the dock workers of Cincinnati, the Creoles of New Orleans and Martinique, and later the common villagers of Japan, describing how they lived and worked and what they believed. No mere seeker after the exotic, Hearn's immersion in Japanese culture following his emigration in 1890 was born of a profound affinity of mind and sensibility. In Japan, the clarity and force of his expression matured. Here Hearn found a beautifully ordered, artistically sensitive society, but one indifferent to individualism. In later years, he saw a society also increasingly susceptible to modern forces of authoritarianism, militarism, and xenophobia. Horrified by the dehumanizing potential of these forces, in East and West alike, Hearn remained acutely sensitive to the most minute experience. His study of Japanese folklore and his retelling of its tales and ghost stories combine insight into the universals of the larger human world with an exquisite appreciation of how small things matter.

Elizabeth Stevenson's book is as much about the writer as the man. While giving an accurate measure of the scale of Hearn's achievement, she makes a compelling case for its artistry. Her reading demonstrates that his writings are not mere aids to the understanding of various cultures but ends in themselves. Hearn did not just translate the folklore of other cultures, he recreated it. The Grass Lark will interest literary scholars, American studies specialists, and folklorists.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
A biography of Hearn (1850-1904), Irish-born American journalist, translator, travel writer, and author of macabre and supernational literature some find second only to Poe himself. He was best known for his depiction of Japanese culture, but Stevenson argues that his work is artistry in its own right rather than merely a doorway to exotic places, people, and folklore. Originally published by Macmillan. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765804853
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/31/1999
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 362
  • Product dimensions: 7.84 (w) x 9.92 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Stevenson (1919-1999) held a variety of jobs during her working life, jobs which supported a writing habit. She found a home at Emory University and retired as Candler Professor of American Studies in the innovative graduate division, the Institute of Liberal Arts. She was the first woman to ever win the Bancroft Prize. Some of her books include Henry Adams: A Biography and The Grass Lark: A Study of Lafcadio Hearn. Elizabeth Stevenson (1919-1999) held a variety of jobs during her working life, jobs which supported a writing habit. She found a home at Emory University and retired as Candler Professor of American Studies in the innovative graduate division, the Institute of Liberal Arts. She was the first woman to ever win the Bancroft Prize. Some of her books include Henry Adams: A Biography and The Grass Lark: A Study of Lafcadio Hearn.

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