Romantic and Transcendental Quests of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Victor-Marie Hugo

Author: Young, Regina M.
Year:2003
Pages:494
ISBN:0-7734-6668-1
978-0-7734-6668-5
Price:279.95
This study demonstrates that there is a substantial philosophical congeniality between Ralph Waldo Emerson and Victor Hugo which has so far gone unnoticed. It shows many striking affinities, offering a fresh perspective on both authors. It examines how both Emerson’s and Hugo’s ideas and perceptions grew out of 19th-century Western ideology, as well as their personal psycho-physiological experiences of the world. In arguing for an understanding of Hugo as a Gallic Transcendentalist, this comparative study corrects one popular image of the French writer, that of a moody, eccentric megalomaniac and superficial trifler. Beginning with a lively cultural-studies analysis of both writers’ personal as well as socio-historical backgrounds, it examines specific, authentic 19th-century articles from French and American journals in order to shed light on what critics had to say about the foreign poet. There is also a collection and analysis of Emerson’s never-written ‘French Traits,’ Emerson’s perceptions of the French as a nation as expressed in his journal entries. The study then gives a detailed analysis of Emerson’s and Hugo’s main affinity: their Transcendentalist cosmogony.

Reviews

“In this original study of what she calls two ‘intersecting universes,’ Regina Young goes beyond comparing the lives and works of two literary giants….She clearly explains the roots of their common interest in Eastern religion; she offers a convincing interpretation of the correspondence between the ‘oversoul’ and the ‘l’âme-monde’; she sheds new light on the role and representation of Eros by both writers. She successfully argues that French readers have misunderstood Hugo because they failed to see his ‘affinities with American Transcendentalism’….Skilfully balancing primary sources and different schools of criticism, Regina Young explores the complex relations between French Romanticism and American Transcendentalism in a pleasant weaving of French and English words and worlds.” – Elyane Dezon Jones, Professor of French, Washington University in Saint Louis

“A wide-ranging comparative analysis, it is constructed around the concepts of pantheism and correspondence, and exhibits a true passion for the subject matter, thanks to the author’s engaged and engaging style. The opening chapter tracks, for the first time anywhere, these two writers’ respective whereabouts and activities, literary and otherwise, throughout their lives…. She brings to light another side of Emerson not thoroughly examined before. Set off against Hugo’s ebullient sexuality, his preferred vehicle for transcendental experiences, the American’s intellectual approach to love seems relatively dry. Here an analysis of biographical data becomes more prominent and plays an important role in the interpretation of the textual evidence.” – Stamos Metzidakis, Professor of French & Comparative Literature, Washington University in Saint Louis

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface; Introduction
1. Intersecting Universes: Emerson, Hugo, and the Zeitgest of 19th-century America and France
2. “If I had a barn-fowl…I should name him France”: Emerson’s Romantic France
3. “The Marriage of Thoughts and Things”: The Romantic Theory of Correspondence in the Poet in Emerson and Hugo
4. “The Religion of Love”: Emerson’s and Hugo’s Pantheistic Poetics of Love
Conclusion; Appendix
Bibliography; Index