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.

Order a print copy

Hardcover · $47.96 · Add to Cart

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

Download an electronic copy

Amazon Kindle Store Barnes & Noble NOOK Google Play iBooks Store

Availability and price vary according to vendor.

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

Related Subjects

Literary Studies · American Literature · Literary Criticism · Monograph · United States · 19th century · North America · Americas

Formats

Hardcover

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

Electronic

978-0-8214-4053-7
Release date: Jun. 2000
≅ 544 pages