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Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life
Boston : Beacon Press, 2004
PS2281 .C25 2004
In the first biography of Longfellow in almost fifty years, Charles C. Calhoun seeks to solve a mystery: why has one of America's most famous writers fallen into such oblivion? Can we truly understand nineteenth-century America if we ignore someone whose words were on everyone's lips - and who even today remains, in Dana Gioia's words, "the one poet average, non-bookish Americans still know by heart"?
Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life is a Victorian family saga. A young man from the provinces gains international celebrity and great wealth. Yet his life is afflicted by chronic melancholy, by the tragic deaths of two beloved wives, by a spendthrift son and a self-destructive brother. It is also the story of a great house, Castle Craigie, still a Cambridge, Massachusetts, landmark.
Drawing on unpublished Longfellow family papers, Calhoun shows how the young poet blends the Federalist politics and Unitarianism of his parents' generation with the German romanticism he discovers on his travels. The result is a distinctly American poetry, traditional in form but nationalist in sentiment. Longfellow's Paul Revere, Priscilla Alden, Miles Standish, and the Village Blacksmith become American icons. And in his masterpiece, Evangeline, Longfellow invents the foundational myth of Acadian and Cajun ethnic identity.
Calhoun's Longfellow is also a multiculturalist, introducing Americans to Dante and championing the study of foreign languages at Bowdoin and Harvard. His career is seen in light of new scholarship on sentimentality and romantic male friendship. And through the pages of the book walks a procession of vivid characters - from the poet's Revolutionary War grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, to his friends and acquaintances, including Hawthorne, Emerson, Charles Sumner, Dickens, Carlyle, Fanny Butler, Queen Victoria, and Oscar Wilde.
Quoted from dustjacket.