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In January 1862, Charles Godwin courted Harriet Russell, ultimately unsuccessfully, with the following lines: "Like cadences of inexpressibly sweet music, your kind words came to me: causing every nerve to vibrate as though electrified by some far off strain of heavenly harmony." Almost ten years later, Albert Janin, upon receiving a letter from his beloved Violet Blair, responded with, "I kissed your letter over and over again, regardless of the small-pox epidemic at New York, and gave myself up to a carnival of bliss before breaking the envelope." And in October 1883, Dorothea Lummis wrote candidly to her husband Charles, "I like you to want me, dear, and if I were only with you, I would embrace more than the back of your neck, be sure." In Karen Lystra's richly provocative book, Searching the Heart, we hear the voices of Charles, Albert, Dorothea, and nearly one hundred other nineteenth-century Americans emerge from their surprisingly open, intimate, and emotional love letters. While historians of nineteenth-century America have explored a host of private topics, including courtship, marriage, birth control, sexuality, and sex roles, they have consistently neglected the study of romantic love. Lystra fills this gap by describing in vivid detail what it meant to fall in love in Victorian America. Based on a vast array of love letters, the book reveals the existence of a real openness--even playfulness--between male and female lovers which challenges and expands more traditional views of middle-class private life in Victorian America. Lystra refutes the common belief that Victorian men and women held passionlessness as an ideal in their romantic relationships. Enabling us to enter the hidden world of Victorian lovers, the letters they left behind offer genuine proof of the intensity of their most private interactions, feelings, behaviors, and judgments. Lystra discusses how Victorians anthropomorphized love letters, treating them as actual visits from their lovers, insisting on reading them in seclusion, sometimes kissing them (as Albert does with Violet's), and even taking them to bed. She also explores how courtship rituals--which included the setting and passing of tests of love--succeeded in building unique, emotional bonds between lovers, and how middle-class views of romantic love, which encouraged sharing knowledge and intimacy, gave women more power in the home. Through the medium of love letters, Searching the Heart allows us to enter, unnoticed, the Victorian bedroom and parlor. We will leave with a different view of middle-class Victorian America.
Sexualities and Communication in Everyday Life: A Reader is a groundbreaking anthology on the role of communication in the construction and performance of sexualities in interpersonal contexts and in public discourses. Editors Karen E. Lovaas and Mercilee M. Jenkins bring together an interdisciplinary collection which include excerpts from foundational works, recent journal articles, and original pieces written specifically for this text.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, rural New England society underwent a radical transformation as the traditional household economy gave way to an encroaching market culture. Drawing on a wide array of diaries, letters, and published writings by women in this society, Catherine E. Kelly describes their attempts to make sense of the changes in their world by elaborating values connected to rural life. In her hands, the narratives reveal the dramatic ways female lives were reshaped during the antebellum period and the women's own contribution to those developments. Equally important, she demonstrates how these writings afford a fuller understanding of the capitalist transformation of the countryside and the origins of the Northern middle class.Provincial women exalted rural life for its republican simplicity while condemning that of the city for its aristocratic pretension. The idyllic nature of the former was ascribed to the financial independence that the household economy had long provided those in the farming community. Kelly examines how the juxtaposition of rural virtue to urban vice served as a cautionary defense against the new realities of the capitalist market society. She finds that women responded to the transition to capitalism by upholding a set of values which point toward the creation of a provincial bourgeoisie.
"The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke," a compelling primary document previously unpublished, offers insights into the life and mind of a seventeen-year-old young woman, while also providing a fascinating window into the cultural and social landscape of the early national period. Rachel was a thoughtful, intelligent, observer, and her journal is an important account of upper- and middle-class life in the growing city of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her entries reveal her remarkably studied views on social customs, marriage, gender roles, friendship, and religion. The journal is dominated by two interrelated themes: Rachel's desire to broaden her knowledge and her friendship with her teacher, Ebenezer Grosvenor. Since Ebenezer was both her teacher and her romantic interest, it is impossible to distinguish between the themes of education and romance that dominate her writings. On several occasions, Rachel and Ebenezer exchanged their private journals with each other. During these exchanges, Ebenezer added comments in the margins of Rachel's journal, producing areas of written "conversation" between them. The marginalia adds to the complexity of the journal and provides evidence of and insight into Rachel's romantic and intellectual relationship with him. The written interactions between Rachel and Ebenezer, together with discussions of friendship and courtship rituals provided throughout the journal, enrich our understanding of social life during the early national period. To Read My Heart will be of interest to students of American history, women's studies, and nineteenth-century literature; all readers will be captivated by the rich expression and emotional experience of the journal. Whether she is relating the story of a young friend's wedding, the death of a small boy, or the capture of a slave in Guinea, Rachel's pages have universal appeal as she seeks to understand her own role as an emerging adult.
The story of secularization and religious disestablishment in American higher education is told from the standpoint of a lively community of professors, students, and administrators at the University of Michigan in the late nineteenth century. This campus culture--one of the most closely watched of its day--sheds new light on the personal and cultural meanings of these momentous changes in American intellectual and public life. Here we see how religion was not so much displaced or marginalized in the heyday of university reform as translated into new arenas of public service and scholarly pursuit. The main characters in this story--professors Calvin Thomas and Henry Carter Adams--underwent profound religious crises of faith accompanied by major adjustments in their interpersonal relationships. Together, with students and administrators, their lives constituted a communal biography of religious deconversion. A close examination of these private and public worlds provides a more complete understanding of the dynamics behind new academic policies and intellectual innovations in a leading public university. The non-cognitive, intersubjective, gendered, quasi-religious shadings of academic modernism and early pragmatist philosophy, in particular, come to light in vivid ways. As John Dewey later observed, Michigan became an experimental laboratory for new meanings to unfold, new acts to propose.
In this in-depth and detailed history, Timothy J. Williams reveals that antebellum southern higher education did more than train future secessionists and proslavery ideologues. It also fostered a growing world of intellectualism flexible enough to marry the era's middle-class value system to the honor-bound worldview of the southern gentry. By focusing on the students' perspective and drawing from a rich trove of their letters, diaries, essays, speeches, and memoirs, Williams narrates the under examined story of education and manhood at the University of North Carolina, the nation's first public university. Every aspect of student life is considered, from the formal classroom and the vibrant curriculum of private literary societies to students' personal relationships with each other, their families, young women, and college slaves. In each of these areas, Williams sheds new light on the cultural and intellectual history of young southern men, and in the process dispels commonly held misunderstandings of southern history. Williams's fresh perspective reveals that students of this era produced a distinctly southern form of intellectual masculinity and maturity that laid the foundation for the formulation of the post–Civil War South.
"What Is It Then between Us? marks the appearance of a bright new star in the poetry criticism firmament. Eric Murphy Selinger explores the complex history of American love poetry with panache, acumen, and scholarly precision. His readings of love poems by writers as diverse as Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, and James Merrill are both nimble and persuasive. Itself written con amore, What Is It Then between Us? is a pioneering study of the imaginative ways our poets have recorded the ordeals and pleasures of love in their verse."--Herbert Leibowitz, Editor and Publisher, Parnassus: Poetry in ReviewTracing the solitude of the American self, the difference between idolatrous and companionate affection, and the dream of an "America of love," Eric Murphy Selinger shows how such concerns can shape a poet's most intimate decisions about genre and form. His lucid, elegant prose illuminates not only well-known love poets, including Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams, but also more unexpected figures, notably Wallace Stevens and Mina Loy. Like the poets he discusses, Selinger refuses to view love reductively. Rather, he takes the impulse to debunk love as part of his subject, whether it crops up in Puritan theology or contemporary literary theory. As he details Whitman's courtship of his readers, weighs the restorations of romance in H. D. and Ezra Pound, and demonstrates the bonds between poets as disparate as Robert Creeley and Robert Lowell, Selinger establishes love poetry as an essential American genre.

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