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The Victorian Practice of History from Gibbon to Churchill
In Liberal Epic, Edward Adams examines the liberal imagination’s centuries-long dependence on contradictory, and mutually constitutive, attitudes toward violent domination. Adams centers his ambitious analysis on a series of major epic poems, histories, and historical novels, including Dryden’s Aeneid, Pope’s Iliad, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Byron’s Don Juan, Scott’s Life of Napoleon, Napier’s History of the War in the Peninsula, Macaulay’s History of England, Hardy’s Dynasts, and Churchill’s military histories—works that rank among the most important publishing events of the past three centuries yet that have seldom received critical attention relative to their importance. In recovering these neglected works and gathering them together as part of a self-conscious literary tradition here defined as liberal epic, Adams provides an archaeology that sheds light on contemporary issues such as the relation of liberalism to war, the tactics for sanitizing heroism, and the appeal of violence to supposedly humane readers.
Victorian Literature and Culture Series
In The Life and Undeath of Autonomy in American Literature, Geoff Hamilton charts the evolution of the fundamental concept of autonomy in the American imaginary across the span of the nation’s literary history. Whereas America’s ideological roots are typically examined in relation to Enlightenment Europe, this book traces the American literary representation of autonomy back to its pastoral, political, and ultimately religious origins in ancient Greek thought. Tracking autonomy’s evolution in America from the Declaration of Independence to contemporary works, Hamilton considers affinities between American and Greek literary characters—Natty Bumppo and Odysseus, Emerson’s "poet" and Socrates, Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden and Callicles—and reveals both what American literary history has in common with that of ancient Greece and what is distinctively its own.
The author argues for the link with antiquity not only to understand better the boundaries between self and society but also to show profound transitions in the understanding of autonomy from a nourishing liberty of fulfillment, through an aggressive agency destructive to both human and natural worlds, to a sterile isolation and detachment. The result is an insightful analysis of the history of individualism, the evolution of frontier mythology and American Romanticism, and the contemporary representation of social alienation and violent criminality.
Thomas Jefferson and the Power of Knowledge
Although Thomas Jefferson’s status as a champion of education is widely known, the essays in Light and Liberty make clear that his efforts to enlighten fellow citizens reflected not only a love of learning but also a love of freedom. Using as a starting point Jefferson's conviction that knowledge is the basis of republican self-government, the contributors examine his educational projects not as disparate attempts to advance knowledge for its own sake but instead as a result of his unyielding, almost obsessive desire to bolster Americans’ republican virtues and values.
Whether by establishing schools or through broader, extra-institutional efforts to disseminate knowledge, Jefferson's endeavors embraced his vision for a dynamic and meritocratic America. He aimed not only to provide Americans with the ability to govern themselves and participate in the government of others but also to influence Americans to remake their society in accordance with his own principles.
Written in clear and accessible prose, Light and Liberty reveals the startling diversity of Jefferson’s attempts to rid citizens of the ignorance and vice that, in the view of Jefferson and many contemporaries, had corroded and corrupted once-great civilizations. Never wavering from his faith that "knowledge is power," Jefferson embraced an expansive understanding of education as the foundation for a republic of free and responsible individuals who understood their rights and stood ready to defend them.
Thomas Jefferson's Dualistic Enlightenment
The Limits of Optimism works to dispel persistent notions about Jefferson’s allegedly paradoxical and sphinx-like quality. Maurizio Valsania shows that Jefferson’s multifaceted character and personality are to a large extent the logical outcome of an anti-metaphysical, enlightened, and humility-oriented approach to reality. That Jefferson’s mind and priorities changed over time and in response to changing circumstances indicates neither incoherence, hypocrisy, nor pathology.
Valsania’s reading of Jefferson, the Enlightenment, and negativity helps to make sense of the many paradoxes typically associated with that eighteenth-century thinker. At the same time, it provides a corrective to the common though erroneous equation of Enlightenment thinking with rationalism and shallow optimism.
Reflections on the Founding Couple
Restored to its original splendor, Montpelier is now a national shrine, but before Montpelier became a place of study and tribute, it was a home. Often kept from it by the business of the young nation, James and Dolley Madison could finally take up permanent residence when they retired from Washington in 1817. Their lifelong friend Thomas Jefferson predicted that, at Montpelier, the retiring Madison could return to his "books and farm, to tranquility, and independence," that he would be released "from incessant labors, corroding anxieties, active enemies, and interested friends."
As the celebrated historian Ralph Ketcham shows, this would turn out to be only partly true. Although the Madisons were no longer in Washington, Dolley continued to take part in its social scene from afar, dominating it just as she had during Jefferson’s and her husband’s administrations, commenting on people and events there and advising the multitude of young people who thought of her as the creator of society life in the young republic. James maintained a steady correspondence about public questions ranging from Native American affairs, slavery, and utopian reform to religion and education. He also took an active role at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-30, in the defeat of nullification, and in the establishment of the University of Virginia, of which he was the rector for eight years after Jefferson’s death. Exploring Madison’s role in these post-presidential issues reveals a man of extraordinary intellectual vitality and helps us to better understand Madison’s political thought. His friendships with figures such as Jefferson, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette--as well as his assessment of them (he outlived them all)--shed valuable light on the nature of the republic they had all helped found.
In their last years, James and Dolley Madison personified the republican institutions and culture of the new nation--James as the father of the Constitution and its chief propounder for nearly half a century, and Dolley as the creator of the role of "First Lady." Anything but uneventful, the retirement period at Montpelier should be seen as a crucial element in our understanding of this remarkable couple.
The Soldier-Hero in Contemporary American Culture
There is no shortage of iconic masculine imagery of the soldier in American film and literature—one only has to think of George C. Scott as Patton in front of a giant American flag, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, or Burt Lancaster rolling around in the surf in From Here to Eternity. In Male Armor, Jon Robert Adams examines the ways in which novels, plays, and films about America’s late-twentieth-century wars reflect altering perceptions of masculinity in the culture at large. He highlights the gap between the cultural conception of masculinity and the individual experience of it, and exposes the myth of war as an experience that verifies manhood.
Drawing on a wide range of work, from the war novels of Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, James Jones, and Joseph Heller to David Rabe’s play Streamers and Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead, Adams examines the evolving image of the soldier from World War I to Operation Desert Storm. In discussing these changing perceptions of masculinity, he reveals how works about war in the late twentieth century attempt to eradicate inconsistencies among American civilian conceptions of war, the military’s expectations of the soldier, and the soldier’s experience of combat. Adams argues that these inconsistencies are largely responsible not only for continuing support of the war enterprise but also for the soldiers’ difficulty in reintegration to civilian society upon their return. He intends Male Armor to provide a corrective to the public’s continued investment in the war enterprise as a guarantor both of masculinity and, by extension, of the nation.
Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War
The Confederate army went to war to defend a nation of slaveholding states, and although men rushed to recruiting stations for many reasons, they understood that the fundamental political issue at stake in the conflict was the future of slavery. Most Confederate soldiers were not slaveholders themselves, but they were products of the largest and most prosperous slaveholding civilization the world had ever seen, and they sought to maintain clear divisions between black and white, master and servant, free and slave.
In Marching Masters Colin Woodward explores not only the importance of slavery in the minds of Confederate soldiers but also its effects on military policy and decision making. Beyond showing how essential the defense of slavery was in motivating Confederate troops to fight, Woodward examines the Rebels’ persistent belief in the need to defend slavery and deploy it militarily as the war raged on. Slavery proved essential to the Confederate war machine, and Rebels strove to protect it just as they did Southern cities, towns, and railroads. Slaves served by the tens of thousands in the Southern armies—never as soldiers, but as menial laborers who cooked meals, washed horses, and dug ditches. By following Rebel troops' continued adherence to notions of white supremacy into the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, the book carries the story beyond the Confederacy’s surrender.
Drawing upon hundreds of soldiers’ letters, diaries, and memoirs, Marching Masters combines the latest social and military history in its compelling examination of the last bloody years of slavery in the United States.
A Landscape Critic in the Gilded Age
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer (1851–1934) was one of the premier figures in landscape writing and design at the turn of the twentieth century, a moment when the amateur pursuit of gardening and the increasingly professionalized landscape design field were beginning to diverge. This intellectual biography—the first in-depth study of the versatile critic and author—reveals Van Rensselaer’s vital role in this moment in the history of landscape architecture.
Van Rensselaer was one of the new breed of American art and architecture critics, closely examining the nature of her profession and bringing a disciplined scholarship to the craft. She considered herself a professional, leading the effort among women in the Gilded Age to claim the titles of artist, architect, critic, historian, and journalist. Thanks to the resources of her wealthy mercantile family, she had been given a sophisticated European education almost unheard of for a woman of her time. Her close relationship with Frederick Law Olmsted influenced her ideas on landscape gardening, and her interest in botany and geology shaped the ideas upon which her philosophy and art criticism were based. She also studied the works of Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Henry David Thoreau, and many other nineteenth-century scientists and nature writers, which influenced her general belief in the relationship between science and the imagination.
Her cosmopolitan education and elevated social status gave her, much like her contemporary Edith Wharton, access to the homes and gardens of the upper classes. This allowed her to mingle with authors, artists, and affluent patrons of the arts and enabled her to write with familiarity about architecture and landscape design. Identifying over 330 previously unattributed editorials and unsigned articles authored by Van Rensselaer in the influential journal Garden and Forest—for which she was the sole female editorial voice—Judith Major offers insight into her ideas about the importance of botanical nomenclature, the similarities between landscape gardening and idealist painting, design in nature, and many other significant topics. Major’s critical examination of Van Rensselaer’s life and writings—which also includes selections from her correspondence—details not only her influential role in the creation of landscape architecture as a discipline but also her contribution to a broader public understanding of the arts in America.
Ignoring, Evading, and Trumping the Supreme Court
Based on an award-winning dissertation, Merely Judgment examines what happens after a Supreme Court decision is handed down--in particular how governments and other institutions can derail the implementation of Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action in governmental contracting; also flag burning, hate speech, and school prayer.
Postwar London and the West Indian Novel
In Migrant Modernism, J. Dillon Brown examines the intersection between British literary modernism and the foundational West Indian novels that emerged in London after World War II. By emphasizing the location in which anglophone Caribbean writers such as George Lamming, V. S. Naipaul, and Samuel Selvon produced and published their work, Brown reveals a dynamic convergence between modernism and postcolonial literature that has often been ignored. Modernist techniques not only provided a way for these writers to mark their difference from the aggressively English, literalist aesthetic that dominated postwar literature in London but also served as a self-critical medium through which to treat themes of nationalism, cultural inheritance, and identity.