shopping_cart

Transcendental Wordplay
America’s Romantic Punsters and the Search for the Language of Nature

By Michael West

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, America was captivated by a muddled notion of “etymology.” New England Transcendentalism was only one outcropping of a nationwide movement in which schoolmasters across small-town America taught students the roots of words in ways that dramatized religious issues and sparked wordplay.

Shaped by this ferment, our major romantic authors shared the sensibility that Friedrich Schlegel linked to punning and christened “romantic irony.” Notable punsters or etymologists all, they gleefully set up as sages, creating jocular masterpieces from their zest for oracular wordplay. Their search for a primal language lurking beneath all natural languages provided them with something like a secret language that encodes their meanings. To fathom their essentially comic masterpieces we must decipher it.

Interpreting Thoreau as an ironic moralist, satirist, and social critic rather than a nature-loving mystic, Transcendental Wordplay suggests that the major American Romantics shared a surprising conservatism. In this award-winning study, Professor West rescues the pun from critical contempt and allows readers to enjoy it as a serious form of American humor.

Michael West is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of more than fifty articles on subjects ranging from Homer to Joyce. He has a particular interest in the Classical tradition, comedy, and satire.   More info →

Order a print copy

Hardcover · $47.96 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $59.95 · Save 20% ($47.96)

Buy from a local bookstore

IndieBound

US and Canada only

Download an electronic copy

Amazon Kindle Store Barnes & Noble NOOK Google Play iBooks Store

Availability and price vary according to vendor.

Cover of Transcendental Wordplay

Share    Facebook icon  Email icon

Requests

Desk Copy Examination Copy Review Copy

Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center

Formats

Hardcover
978-0-8214-1324-1
Retail price: $59.95, S.
Release date: June 2000
544 pages
Rights:  World

Electronic
978-0-8214-4053-7
Release date: June 2000
544 pages

Related Titles

Cover of 'The Laughing West'

The Laughing West
Humorous Western Fiction, Past and Present
By Charles L. Sonnichsen

Without humor, the American West would be a vast territory of arid clichés — stolid cowboys and fearless lawmen, or, in more modern visions, dastardly land developers and fanatical environmentalists — all of them as lifeless as an alkalai flat.

Literary Studies · Fiction · Western Americana

Cover of 'The Midwestern Pastoral'

The Midwestern Pastoral
Place and Landscape in Literature of the American Heartland
By William Barillas

The midwestern pastoral is a literary tradition of place and rural experience that celebrates an attachment to land that is mystical as well as practical, based on historical and scientific knowledge as well as personal experience. It is exemplified in the poetry, fiction, and essays of writers who express an informed love of the nature and regional landscapes of the Midwest.

Nature · Literary Studies · American Literature · Literary Criticism · Ohio and Regional

Cover of 'America’s Sketchbook'

America’s Sketchbook
The Cultural Life of a Nineteenth-Century Literary Genre
By Kristie Hamilton

America’s Sketchbook recaptures the drama of nineteenth-century American cultural life, placing at its center a genre—the literary sketch—more available than the novel, less governable by the critical establishment, and shot through with the tensions and types of local and national culture-making.

Literary Studies · American Literature · Literary Criticism

Cover of 'Native American Folklore in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals'

Native American Folklore in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals
Edited by William M. Clements

Though study of American Indian cultures had been fostered for several centuries by missionaries and explorers, it was not until he nineteenth century that a disciplined and systematic approach to the study of New World cultures began to emerge.

Journalism · Literary Studies · Native American Studies