John Brown and the Era of Literary Confrontation

By Michael Stoneham

© 2009 – Routledge

228 pages

Purchasing Options:
Paperback: 9780415845519
pub: 2013-02-27
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Hardback: 9780415996822
pub: 2009-03-17
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About the Book

Radical abolitionist and freedom-fighter John Brown inspired literary America to confrontation during his short but dramatic career as a public figure in antebellum America. Emerging from obscurity during the violent struggle to determine how Kansas would enter the Union in 1856, John Brown captured the imagination of the most prominent Eastern literary figures following his dramatic, though failed raid on Harper’s Ferry. Impressed by Brown’s forthright defense of his attempt to initiate the end of slavery, Whittier, Whitman, Melville, Longfellow, and Howells responded to the abolitionist with poetic tributes suggesting that Brown was a liberating hero, while Emerson and Thoreau celebrated his effort to inspire the nation to a new moral awareness of the common humanity of all men. Responses, however, were not uniform, as these and other figures debated the merits and meanings of Brown’s actions. This exceptional book sheds new light on how John Brown inspired America’s most significant intellects to take a public stand against the inertia of moral compromise and social degeneracy, bringing the nation to the brink of civil war.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. John Brown: "A Muse of Fire" 3. Translating a Terrorist: The Business of Public Intellectuals 4. Confronting Conspirators: Re-examining Thoreau’s "A Plea for Captain John Brown" 5. "Self-Reliance:" Emerson’s Antidote to Political Abdication and Judicial Compromise 6. In the Shadow of John Brown: Refusing Violence in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Dred. 7. Epilogue. Appendix A: Letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Charles Wesley Slack. Appendix B: Letter from Theodore Parker to Charles Wesley Slack. Appendix C: Letter from Frederick Douglass to Charles Wesley Slack. Notes. Works Cited. Index.

About the Author

Michael Stoneham is an Academy Professor in the Department of English at the United States Military Academy.

About the Series

Studies in American Popular History and Culture

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HIS036050
HISTORY / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
HIS037060
HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century
LIT004020
LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General