12. Descendentalism and the Dark Romantics: Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, and the Subversion of American Transcendentalism

  1. Charles L. Crow
  1. Ted Billy

Published Online: 13 SEP 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118608395.ch12

A Companion to American Gothic

A Companion to American Gothic

How to Cite

Billy, T. (2013) Descendentalism and the Dark Romantics: Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, and the Subversion of American Transcendentalism, in A Companion to American Gothic (ed C. L. Crow), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118608395.ch12

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 SEP 2013
  2. Published Print: 25 NOV 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470671870

Online ISBN: 9781118608395

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Keywords:

  • Gothic;
  • Transcendentalism;
  • Nature;
  • Individualism;
  • Reform;
  • Emerson;
  • Poe;
  • Hawthorne;
  • Melville;
  • 19th century

Summary

Although Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville were drawn to some aspects of American Transcendentalism, their fiction subverts three key Transcendentalist concepts: the veneration of nature, self-reliant individualism, and utopian social reform. Poe generally depicts the organic world as alienating and forlorn, whereas Hawthorne's natural settings are characteristically ambiguous. Hawthorne associates nature with mystery, not mysticism, and Melville, particularly in Moby-Dick, offers a foreboding sense of the peril of identifying with the organic environment. In opposition to the Transcendentalists' insistence on radical individualism, Hawthorne affirms the value of the community over the personal ego. Poe also dramatizes the dangers of obsessive self-preoccupation in his fiction. Melville's Captain Ahab personifies the author's own attraction to and repulsion from the Transcendentalist idea of the supremacy of the individual. The notion of the perfectibility of mankind, endorsed by utopian reformers, has no validity in Poe's portraits of deluded characters who lack self-understanding. Melville's early enthusiasm for reform eventually becomes confirmed skepticism regarding the possibility of significant change. Hawthorne, most particularly in The Blithedale Romance, mocks reformers as either egotists or escapists. Attuned to the dark side of human nature, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville were more descendental than transcendental in their portrayals of human experience.