Cover page

Praise for New England Beyond Criticism

“Elisa New is a refreshing voice among critics and historians of literature. She has a keen sense of the nature of New England and its deep spiritual resources, reaching back to the Puritans, moving through the great nineteenth-century expressions of interior landscapes and visions. Her readings strike me as passionate, original, and very much at odds with a good deal that is now being said in academic circles. To say she is eccentric means, quite literally, that she stands outside of the center. In this, she seems in keeping with her Puritan fathers and mothers, those dark visionaries who gave birth to Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, and others. This is a book I welcome and celebrate.”

Jay Parini, Middlebury College

“Elisa New's book is a remarkable achievement. It is very rare that a critic manages to ask what seem exactly the right questions, then to answer them in a lively, brilliant, evocative, and supremely intelligent prose. New recognizes the force of criticism's critiques of traditional claims for the importance of New England writing in the shaping of America's images of itself. But she also recognizes how criticism tends to be limited by its academic protocols, so it cannot fully address the urgency of this writing to appeal to the full human being, hungry for meaning and idealization and passion challenged continually by that social reality on which the critics concentrate. New develops a critical stance fully responsive to what she calls the texts' ‘powers’ as they seek to come to terms with demands for conversion, challenges to imagine how people produce values, and the constant worry that these very ambitions may lead imaginations to cross borders where terror seems the dominant affective register.”

Charles F. Altieri, University of California

Wiley Blackwell Manifestos

In this series major critics make timely interventions to address important concepts and subjects, including topics as diverse as, for example: Culture, Race, Religion, History, Society, Geography, Literature, Literary Theory, Shakespeare, Cinema, and Modernism. Written accessibly and with verve and spirit, these books follow no uniform prescription but set out to engage and challenge the broadest range of readers, from undergraduates to postgraduates, university teachers and general readers – all those, in short, interested in ongoing debates and controversies in the humanities and social sciences.

Already Published

The Idea of CultureTerry Eagleton
The Future of ChristianityAlister E. McGrath
Reading After TheoryValentine Cunningham
21st-Century ModernismMarjorie Perloff
The Future of TheoryJean-Michel Rabaté
True ReligionGraham Ward
Inventing Popular CultureJohn Storey
Myths for the MassesHanno Hardt
The Future of WarChristopher Coker
The Rhetoric of RHETORICWayne C. Booth
When Faiths CollideMartin E. Marty
The Future of Environmental CriticismLawrence Buell
The Idea of Latin AmericaWalter D. Mignolo
The Future of SocietyWilliam Outhwaite
Provoking DemocracyCaroline Levine
Rescuing the BibleRoland Boer
Our Victorian EducationDinah Birch
The Idea of English EthnicityRobert Young
Living with TheoryVincent B. Leitch
Uses of LiteratureRita Felski
Religion and the Human FutureDavid E. Klemm and William Schweiker
The State of the NovelDominic Head
In Defense of ReadingDaniel R. Schwarz
Why Victorian Literature Still MattersPhilip Davis
The Savage TextAdrian Thatcher
The Myth of Popular CulturePerry Meisel
Phenomenal ShakespeareBruce R. Smith
Why Politics Can't Be Freed From ReligionIvan Strenski
What Cinema is!Andrew Dudley
The Future of Christian TheologyDavid F. Ford
A Future for Criticism Catherine Belsey
After the FallRichard Gray
After GlobalizationEric Cazdyn and Imre Szeman
Art Is Not What You Think It IsDonald Preziosi and Claire Farago
The Global Future of English StudiesJames F. English
The Future of Jewish TheologySteven Kepnes
Where is American Literature?Caroline F. Levander
New England Beyond CriticismElisa New
Title page

Acknowledgments

Like all books of this kind, this one is far better for the support, feedback, interventions, and complaints of colleagues, editors, assistants, anonymous readers, students, friends, and family.

The Harvard English Faculty Colloquium and the Harvard Graduate Americanist Colloquium heard various parts of this book and provided sharp and sympathetic feedback on its strengths and weaknesses, as did thoughtful audiences at the Modern Language Association, the American Literature Association, the University of Utah, SUNY Buffalo, Suffolk University, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Chapters One, Four, Five, Seven, Nine, Eleven and Twelve all appear in print here for the first time. Chapter Three – excepting a few brief sections that appeared first in Early American Literature and the New England Quarterly – is original to this book as well. Earlier versions of Chapters Two appeared in Religion and Literature and then in Infinite Conversations. A version of Chapter Six appeared in The New Republic. A version of Chapter Eight appeared in Reading The Middle Generation Anew. Chapter Ten appeared in American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions: the current chapter also includes excerpts from an essay originally published in The New Republic. Those chapters previously published are far better for the excellent readings and suggestions offered by editors and readers. I am grateful to Barbara Packer and Roger Lundin for their searching responses to “Variety as Religious Experience” (Chapter Two); to Leon Wieseltier for his smart and lucid editing of what became “Growing up a Goodman”; and I thank Eric Haralson for many excellent suggestions on the book chapter that is here, “Disinheriting New England.” I am grateful to Chris Looby and Cindy Weinstein for helping me with “Upon a Peak in Beinecke”. In a world where disinterested feedback is sometimes hard to come by, these editors provided suggestions both generous and practical. Among colleagues I want especially to thank Ramie Targoff and Stephen Greenblatt, Peter Sacks, Stephanie Sandler, and especially my friend Larry Buell, the most generous of mentors, and friends. Jay Parini was wonderfully supportive; so was Paul Dry. I am grateful to Emma Bennett at Wiley Blackwell for soliciting this manuscript and to Deirdre Ilkson for her skillful piloting of the manuscript through the review process. Combining imagination and efficiency, the Wiley Blackwell editorial team has been exemplary. I am grateful to Annette Abel, Zeb Korycinska, Kevin Fung, Jeffrey Goh, and Sara Henning-Stout for their professionalism and unfailing intelligence.

Most of the insights in this book originated in the classroom. One's best teachers, and critics, are always the students one teaches – or teaches with. Animated discussion – or stony stares – these must be critics' best guide to validity in interpretation. The list of those whose insights, sometimes years and years old, continue to detonate or evolve in my mind is very long. But it must include Gina Bloom, Jeremy Sigler, Jim Dawes, Jennifer Jordan Baker, Mike Magee, Bernie Rhie, Hester Blum, Dan Chiasson, Katie Petersen, Odile Harter, DeSales Harr, Jim von der Heydt, Emily Ogden, Erica Levy, Adam Zalisk, Andrew Goldstone, Adam Scheffler, John Radway, Ingrid Nelson, Martin Greenup, Sharon Howell, Andrew DuBois, Lauren Brozovich, Dave Weimer, Kaye Wierzbicki, Maggie Doherty, Cara Glatt, Leah Reis-Dennis and Orli Levine.

I owe an immense debt to the talented assistants, research and editorial, who worked with the manuscript, in various versions, through a period of years. Sol Kim- Bentley has seen this book through many drafts. She painstakingly deciphered and transcribed penciled, penned, or sticky-noted insertions into some chapters three and four times: Sol sometimes smiles to see the same chapters return again and again to her desk, but she never complains. Still going strong at age 90, my dear friend Charlotte Maurer read and helped me rethink and clarify several parts of this book, some of whose passages I know she found too academic by half. Her wisdom as editor, and reader, will be with me always, although she is now gone. Superb undergraduate research assistants who worked on this book include Madeleine Bennett, Antonia Fraker, Sarah Hopkinson, and Elizabeth Tingue, and, in a break from her own career, my daughter Yael Levine. Through Yael, I am lucky to have found Caroline Bankoff, whose unfailing intelligence, dispatch, and professionalism help me get pages out the door: I count on her. And I owe deep thanks to Yang (Linda) Liu, who began work while writing her senior thesis as my undergraduate research assistant and then, two years into her own graduate training, helped me finish the manuscript. Linda's literary insights and her editorial pen, both delicate and sharp, gave this book a clarity and polish it would not otherwise have had.

I also wish to express my gratitude to the readers, many anonymous, who have liked –and have disliked –this book, in earlier and in later versions. Those enthusiastic about the book's approach helped me to persist in completing it. Those who objected to it have been, in some ways, even more helpful, for from them I learned the real stakes of my argument. But for their objections, I might not have known that what I wrote was a manifesto.

Finally, a different sort of thanks must go to my husband, Larry Summers, for first inviting me to visit, and then inviting me to share with him, James Russell Lowell's – the Harvard President's – house, Elmwood. As I describe in my Epilogue, living at Elmwood and with Larry changed my whole literary disposition; changed the way I see the meaning of what we do as teacher and scholar. No matter where our adventures take us, Larry and I will always share our very own Harvard, along with everything else.

1
Introduction
New England Beyond Criticism