Lighting out for the territory

Today we present the third of our three selections from the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here — please). One of the featured pieces in the current issue is by Dartmouth College Professor of English (emeritus) Jeffrey Hart. Everything I think I know about politics I have learned from Harry Jaffa and his students affiliated with the Claremont Institute; everything I think I know about literature I learned as a grateful student of Professor Hart. The CRB spring issue features a review/essay by Professor Hart on American literature. Who could ask for anything more?

For Hellas there was Homer, for Rome, Vergil, for Italy, Dante. Spain has Cervantes; Germany, Goethe; England, the Immortal Bard. And America…? Professor Hart reflects on some American classics that “stand at what Lionel Trilling called ‘the bloody crossroads’ where literature and politics meet.” Remind yourselves of the peculiarly American spirit of Emerson, Whitman, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Melville, Twain: have we “listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe”? asked one of them. Shall we “walk on our own feet…speak our own minds”?

In his CRB review/essay, Professor Hart considers Denis Donoghue’s new book on the American classics, compares it to F.O. Matthiessen’s classic American Renaissance, and provides his own reading of some of the great works in which we hear American singing. Lurking somewhere in the background is D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature. Professor Hart’s essay is “Our literature of extremes.” Enjoy!

JOHN adds: Whitman does nothing for me, Emerson and Thoreau sit on the book shelf, Melville is good, Hawthorne is (along with Henry James) one of only two major American writers whom I find virtually unreadable, Twain is great, mostly. It occurs to me that just about all of our readers are likely to have strong opinions on America’s best writers. It might be fun to run a poll. Should we ask for best American novelist, or best American novel? Or best American writer, so we can include people like Whitman, Emerson and Wallace Stevens?


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