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Emerson and Eros

The Making of a Cultural Hero

Len Gougeon

Publication Year: 2007

This critical biography traces the spiritual, psychological, and intellectual growth of one of America’s foremost oracles and prophets, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). Beginning with his undergraduate career at Harvard and spanning the range of his adult life, the book examines the complex, often painful emotional journey inward that would eventually transform Emerson from an average Unitarian minister into one of the century’s most formidable intellectual figures. By connecting Emerson’s inner life with his outer life, Len Gougeon illustrates a virtually seamless relationship between Emerson’s Transcendental philosophy and his later career as a social reformer, a rebel who sought to “unsettle all things” in an effort to redeem his society. In tracing the path of Emerson’s evolution, Gougeon makes use of insights by Joseph Campbell, Erich Neumann, Mircea Eliade, and N. O. Brown. Like Emerson, all of these thinkers directly experienced the fragmentation and dehumanization of the Western world, and all were influenced both directly and indirectly by Emerson and his philosophy. Ultimately, this study demonstrates how Emerson’s philosophy would become a major force of liberal reformation in American society, a force whose impact is still felt today.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Emerson & Eros

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pp. ix-x

In the course of writing a book, one inevitably incurs many debts to those who provided help and encouragement along the way. After more than thirty years of writing about Emerson, I have accumulated an unusual number of these. Since it involved so many different aspects of Emerson’s life and thought, this particular project was a special challenge. My journey into the depths of Emerson’s inner self forced me to consider...

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pp. 1-20

This study began many years ago as an effort to answer a question. That question, however, must first be prefaced by a few observations. For the first thirty years of his life, Ralph Waldo Emerson was the epitome of upper-middle-class American gentility and conformity. Considered undistinguished as an...

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1. Psychomythic Humanism: Re-centering Reality

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pp. 21-43

With humanity emerging from the devastation of World War II and facing the challenges of a reality increasingly under the threat of nuclear annihilation, the second half of the twentieth century was a time of both hope and fear. During this period, as the fragments of Western civilization were gradually...

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2. The Spirit and the Flesh

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pp. 45-73

Emerson saw human beings as “amphibious” creatures that function in a reality that possesses both particular and universal dimensions. Consequently they have “two sets of faculties” that deal with this experience. This understanding anticipates an important aspect of the theory that stands at the...

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3.“God’s Child”: Emerson in His Journals

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pp. 75-123

An overview of Emerson’s development from the young, ambitious, Harvard undergraduate in the 1820s, to the mature, sensitive, and seer-like artist of the Essays, Second Series (1844), reveals a profound change. Nowhere is this change more visible than in Emerson’s attitude towards the value and...

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4. “The Devil’s Child”: Emerson’s Early Public Voice

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pp. 125-158

Over the years, Emerson has frequently been accused by critics of producing a corpus of writings that are characterized by such a high degree of abstraction and subjectivity that they are largely incomprehensible to many readers. Thus, George Woodbury, an early biographer, refers to Emerson as...

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5. The Call To Serve: Re-centering America

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pp. 159-191

The publication of Essays, Second Series in October 1844 marked the end of the first stage of Emerson’s emergence as America’s poetic oracle, seer, and redeemer. One of the most significant essays in this collection is a work that reflects both the triumphs and the tragedies endured by him in this prolific period. Titled simply, but tellingly, “Experience,” it is a powerful, complex,...

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pp. 193-197

In his classic study, The Great Mother: An Analysis of an Archetype (1955), Erich Neumann maintains that archetypes are a natural and important component of the human psyche. They are an essential part of life, and they have the power to “determine human behavior unconsciously but in...


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pp. 199-239

Works Cited

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pp. 241-253


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pp. 255-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780791480182
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791470770
Print-ISBN-10: 0791470776

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 173152429
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Emerson and Eros

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Subject Headings

  • Authors, American -- 19th century -- Biography.
  • Social reformers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882 -- Knowledge and learning.
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo, -- 1803-1882 -- Influence.
  • Transcendentalists (New England) -- Biography.
  • Literature and myth.
  • United States -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo, -- 1803-1882 -- Philosophy.
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