An innovative and timely examination of the concept of solitude in nineteenth-century American literature
During the nineteenth century, the United States saw radical developments in media and communication that reshaped concepts of spatiality and temporality. As the telegraph, the postal system, and public transportation became commonplace, the country achieved a level of connectedness that was never possible before. At this level, physical isolation no longer equaled psychological separation from the exterior world, and as communication networks proliferated, being disconnected took on negative cultural connotations.
Though solitude, and the lack thereof, is a pressing concern in today’s culture of omnipresent digital connectivity, Yoshiaki Furui shows that solitude has been a significant preoccupation since the nineteenth century. The obsession over solitude is evidenced by many writers of the period, with consequences for many basic notions of creativity, art, and personal and spiritual fulfillment.
In Modernizing Solitude: The Networked Individual in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, Furui examines, among other works, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Emily Dickinson’s poetry and letters, and telegraphic literature in the 1870s to identify the virtues and values these writers bestowed upon solitude in a time and place where it was being consistently threatened or devalued. Although each writer has a unique way of addressing the theme, they all aim to reclaim solitude as a positive, productive state of being that is essential to the writing process and personal identity. Employing a cross-disciplinary approach to understand modern solitude and the resulting literature, Furui seeks to historicize solitude by anchoring literary works in this revolutionary yet interim period of American communication history, while also applying theoretical insights into the literary analysis.