Misery's Mathematics

Mourning, Compensation, and Reality in Antebellum American Literature

By Peter Balaam

© 2009 – Routledge

186 pages

Purchasing Options:
Hardback: 9780415968072
pub: 2009-01-25
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About the Book

This book reveals the strain of a moment in American cultural history that led several remarkable writers -- including Emerson, Warner, and Melville -- to render the stark rupture of loss in innovative ways. Pushing Protestant culture's sense of loss into secular terrain, these three key writers rejected Calvinist and sentimental models of bereavement, creating instead the compensations of a mature American literature whose 'originality' stemmed from its capacity to mourn the loss of a common culture and, through such mourning, to assent to new social and cultural realities. Balaam locates this appeal to 'reality' in the analogies antebellum writers drew between their experience of bereavement, and the experiences of uncertainty and disillusionment, that followed the revolutions in science, the winding down of creedal systems and the economic instability typifying the pre-Civil War era.

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Acknowledgments

Introduction: "Misery’s Mathematics"

Chapter One: "The Laws of our Learning": Emerson’s Grief and the Geological

Principles of Loss

Chapter Two: Playing with Water: Thrill and Theodicy in The Wide, Wide World

Chapter Three: Representing Grief, Mourning Representation: Melville’s Piazza Tales

Afterword: Soldering the Abyss: The Possibilities of Compensation

Notes

Works Cited

Index

About the Author

Peter Balaam teaches English and American Studies at Carleton College.

About the Series

Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LIT000000
LITERARY CRITICISM / General
LIT004020
LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General