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Ashes of the Mind

War and Memory in Northern Literature, 1865-1900

Martin Griffin

Publication Year: 2009

The memory of the American Civil War took many forms over the decades after the conflict ended: personal, social, religious, and political. It was also remembered and commemorated by poets and fiction writers who understood that the war had bequeathed both historical and symbolic meanings to American culture. Although the defeated Confederacy became best known for producing a literature of nostalgia and an ideological defensiveness intended to protect the South’s own version of history, authors loyal to the Union also confronted the question of what the memory of the war signified, and how to shape the literary response to that individual and collective experience. In Ashes of the Mind, Martin Griffin examines the work of five Northerners—three poets and two fiction writers—who over a period of four decades tried to understand and articulate the landscape of memory in postwar America, and in particular in that part of the nation that could, with most justification, claim the victory of its beliefs and values. The book begins with an examination of the rhetorical grandeur of James Russell Lowell’s Harvard Commemoration Ode, ranges across Herman Melville’s ironic war poetry, Henry James’s novel of North-South reconciliation, The Bostonians, and Ambrose Bierce’s short stories, and ends with the bitter meditation on race and nation presented by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s elegy “Robert Gould Shaw.” Together these texts reveal how a group of representative Northern writers were haunted in different ways by the memory of the conflict and its fraught legacy. Griffin traces a concern with individual and community loss, ambivalence toward victory, and a changing politics of commemoration in the writings of Lowell, Melville, James, Bierce, and Dunbar. What links these very different authors is a Northern memory of the war that became more complex and more compromised as the century went on, often replacing a sense of justification and achievement with a perception of irony and failed promise.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. xi-xii

A number of people made important contributions to Ashes of the Mind along the way, most of which remain as unpaid debts on my part. The list must begin with Barbara Packer and Michael North at UCLA,who always had both a sympathetic ear and an exacting eye for the project, and who continued to be generously available for intellectual and ...

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pp. 1-28

The broad theme of this book is the literature of Civil War memory in the North from 1865 to 1900 in the shape of works by five authors who can be described as Northerners by virtue of birthplace, upbringing, and cultural identity. Four were adults during the Civil War, two older (James Russell Lowell and Herman Melville) and two younger, one of whom ...

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Chapter 1. Cambridge Interiors: Lowell’s Commemoration Ode

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pp. 29-64

Two poems of moderate langth, each remembered in a different way and mirroring the rise and fall and rise of its respective author's literary reputation, appeared in the months immediately following the end of the Civil War. James Russell Lowell read the first version of his "Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration, July 21, 1865," on the date memorial-...

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Chapter 2. A Strange Remorse: Melville and the Measure of Victory

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pp. 65-93

The publication of Herman Melville's collection of Poetry Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War in August 1866, almost ten years after his last work of fiction, The Confidence-Man, had appeared, was not the same kind of ceremonial unveiling that James Russell Lowell's commissioned piece had enjoyed. There was certainly no equivalent commemorative and com-...

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Chapter 3. The Road from Memorial Hall: Memory and Culture in The Bostonians

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pp. 94-133

Henry James’s first substantial artistic engagement with matters of nation, division, and memory — and his last until the “Richmond” chapter of The American Scene in 1907 — appeared almost twenty years after the end of the Civil War.1 Later still is his reference to James Russell Lowell's Harvard Commemoration Ode — a text that James returned to read ...

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Chapter 4 - Bierce and Transformation

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pp. 134-174

The fiction writer who seemed to be haunted by the memory of the Civil war to a greater degree than any other of his generation was Ambrose Bierce. For Bierce, this condition was not a matter of a contaminated political legacy or the fear of a morally dysfunctional national ...

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Chapter 5. Paul Laurence Dunbar: Memory and Memorial

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pp. 175-208

From the double-edged approbation of William dean Howells's introduction to Paul Laurence Dunbar's first substantial collection of poetry, Lyrics of Lowly Life, in 1896, through Langston Hughes's confidently ambiguous reference to a "major (albeit minor) poet" in his 1966 essay "Two Hundred Years of American negro Poetry" to Henry Louis ...

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Coda: Long Road

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pp. 209- 220

Why memory? The question is worth raising. As I argue throughout this book, literary texts are a form of memory that walks a thin line between the subjectivities of individual experience (and their imaginative reinterpretation) and the public dynamics of collective memory and commemorative politics. Some of that argument is explicit, but much of ...


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pp. 221-258


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pp. 259-265

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760994
E-ISBN-10: 161376099X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496897
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496890

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 680474342
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ashes of the Mind

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Subject Headings

  • Lowell, James Russell, 1819-1891 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Bierce, Ambrose, 1842-1914? -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Authors, American -- 19th century -- Political and social views.
  • Memory in literature.
  • Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • War and literature.
  • Dunbar, Paul Laurence, -- 1872-1906 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Literature and the war.
  • James, Henry, -- 1843-1916 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Melville, Herman, -- 1819-1891 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Memorials in literature.
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