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.
List of Figures
Chapter 1. Impure Solitude: Walden, or Life in the Network
Chapter 2. The Solitary Woman in the Garret: Race and Gender in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Chapter 3. Solitude in the Postal Age and Beyond: Melville’s Dead Letters
Chapter 4. “Alone, I Cannot Be –”: Dickinson’s Invention of Modern Solitude
Chapter 5. The Solitude Electric: Techno-Utopianism in Telegraphic Literature
“An engaging discussion of how the developments of the nineteenth-century communications revolution changed the ways in which writers in the United States came to understand the categories of solitude and loneliness in the middle decades of the century.”
—Les Harrison, author of The Temple and the Forum: The American Museum and Cultural Authority in Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe, and Whitman
“In its reclamation of solitude as a productive state of being, Modernizing Solitude joins recent writing that argues for a degree of off-the-grid, more meditative existence to curb social media addiction. As such, it would appeal to those who seek models of moderation, or who are at least curious about the ways in which historical figures negotiated their media consumption in order to remain productive individuals.”
—John M. Picker, author of Victorian Soundscapes