Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

5/1/2015 - 12/31/2015

Funding Totals

$33,600.00 (approved)
$33,600.00 (awarded)

The Life of American Author Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

FAIN: FA-58261-15

Laura Dassow Walls
University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN 46556-4635)

Funding is sought to complete the first full-scale biography of Henry David Thoreau since 1965. This new biography by a senior Thoreau scholar is based on original research in archival sources, incorporates the leading scholarship on Thoreau in recent decades, and will include fresh readings of his works. Particular emphasis is given to Walden, the Journal, The Maine Woods, and Thoreau's late natural history writings, many of which have only recently been published, together with his anti-slavery activities and his life-long involvement with Native North America. The book's three parts follow Thoreau's journey to Walden Pond; his development as a writer, culminating in Walden; and his continuing growth and experimentation thereafter. The author argues that the meaning of Thoreau's life for us today lies less in his withdrawal to Walden than in his return from Walden to Concord, by which Thoreau sought to demonstrate how a fractured world may be forged into a commons, a Cosmos.

Associated Products

Henry David Thoreau: A Life (Book)
Title: Henry David Thoreau: A Life
Author: Laura Dassow Walls
Abstract: Thoreau's attempt to “live deliberately” in a small woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of Walden in 1854. A member of the vibrant intellectual circle centered on his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was also an ardent naturalist, a manual laborer and inventor, a radical political activist, and more. Walls traces Thoreau’s life from his early days in the intellectual hothouse of Concord, when the American experiment still felt fresh and precarious. By the time he died in 1862, at only 44 years of age, Thoreau had witnessed the transformation of his world from a community of farmers and artisans into a bustling, interconnected commercial nation. What did that portend for the contemplative individual and abundant, wild nature that Thoreau celebrated? Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part. And, running through it all, Thoreau the passionate naturalist, who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him. The result is a Thoreau for our time and all time.
Year: 2017
Publisher: Chicago: University fo Chicago Press
Type: Single author monograph
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes