December 18, 2013
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Posted in: Panel of Experts
[WALDEN; OR, LIFE IN THE WOODS]
Although the first edition gives the title Walden; or, Life in the Woods, on March 4, 1862, two months before he died, T wrote to his publishers, Ticknor & Fields, asking them to omit the subtitle in a new edition. They complied with this request, although it has rarely been followed since. Paul (75) suggests that T may have dropped the subtitle because he feared his audience was taking it too literally and thus missing the more important philosophy permeating the book. T could have derived the subtitle from his friend Charles Lane’s essay “Life in the Woods” in the Dial (IV, 1844, 415) or from John S. Williams, “Our Cabin; or, Life in the Woods” in the October 1843 American Pioneer (DeMott), but not from the then popular The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods, by J.T. Headley (New York, 1849), which did not appear until after T had used the subtitle in an advertisement for W in the back pages of the first edition of A Week. For a comprehensive study of the types of books on which T based the structure of W, see Linck Johnson. For a discussion of the organic structure of W, see Lane (1960). Kurtz is one o the most straightforward analyses of W’s style.
Posted in: General Discussion
Is there any possibility of Thoreau borrowing from the Christian tradition and positing “the woods” as a corollary of “wilderness”, where the demons (in us) are often portrayed and living? To reach one’s “higher self”, one must wake up inwardly to those elements that lead the soul (psychological and emotional state) astray.
In his new book, Cryptic Subtexts in Literature and Film: Secret Messages and Buried Treasure (New York: Routledge, 2019), Steven F. Walker offers a new interpretation of Walden’s 1854 subtitle, “Life in the Woods.” It is well known that that subtitle was hardly original, having appeared in several publications prior to the publication of Walden, including an article of that name by Charles Lane which appears in the final issue of The Dial. Walker grants that Thoreau may have used the title “ironically,” that is, “as a vigorous rejoinder to the thesis of Lane’s Dial essay” (13). More intriguing, however, is Walker’s argument that Thoreau may have associated “life in the woods” with a phase of life known in Hindu as “vanaprastha” (literally translated as “life in the woods”)—“the third stage of life—that of the solitary, contemplative hermit living in the forest on the outskirts of the village—as described in The Laws of Manu” (14) which Thoreau read in Emerson’s library in 1840. “Such a new framing,” Walker says, “certainly provides a new perspective on Thoreau’s life-in-the-woods enterprise, which, for all its Yankee originality, also can be seen as a spiritual retreat based on an ancient Hindu paradigm of the stages of life” (16).
Paragraph 1: Last semester I took Professor Cooper’s English 368 Connections in Recent Literature: Unplugged and ParaDigitial class and examined the relationship between books and technology. On the first day of class, we talked about how Thoreau was actually much closer to civilization than it seems in his writing. Although I cannot find the original map that I saw on my first day of class, this map also demonstrates that even though Thoreau was somewhat “tucked away” he was still decently close to civilization. He talks about occasionally catching people off the train to hear the town’s gossip, something he cannot resist. He also mentions occasionally wandering into town for the human connection that he sometimes yearned for. I believe that this is an interesting point to bring into his first chapter “Economy” because he talks to the reader about how he builds his own house that is meant to be so distant from society but in reality it is quite the opposite. This relates strongly to technology today because even people that claim they want to be distant from the innovations we are creating as a society are still somehow connected to technology in some way. Technology has a huge influence on our society and there is almost no way of having total seclusion from the world or from the devices we have invented and are still working on today.
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The drawing of T’s cabin was made by his sister Sophia, an amateur artist. T himself complained of it, “Thoreau would suggest a little alteration, chiefly in the door, in the wide projection of the roof at the front; and that the bank more immediately about the house be brought out more distinctly” (Sanborn, 1917, 338). Sanborn adds, “He must have noticed that her trees were first and pines, with a few deciduous tress that did not then grow there.” Ellery Channing thought it a “feeble caricature.” Other contemporary drawings of the cabin may be found in Meltzer and Harding (144-5).
[to wake my neighbors up]
The epigraph is quoted from the second chapter of W. It is omitted from many modern editions, and unfortunately so, for it sets the mood for the whole book. Broderick (1954) points out how this awakening and morning theme is a basic image carried throughout W. A possible source for T’s idea is Orestes Brownson’s statement in his Boston Quarterly Review in 1839 that he “aimed to startle, and made it a point to be as paradoxical and extravagant as he could.”
February 12, 2020 at 12:53 pm
See in context
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April 4, 2020 at 4:52 pm
Posted in: ENGL 340 S20 Geneseo
I was interested at looking at paragraph seven (beginning “if one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions…”) in the fluid text edition of Walden primarily to see context for the whimsical, poetic sentences concluding the paragraph: “The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” Thoreau’s language in these sentences sounds more romantic than his usual, grounded-but-philosophical style.
As it turns out, these two saccharine sentences remained the same through all seven versions. The romantics in us may rest assured that these words must have came into existence in a moment of passing genius, perfectly realized in a fleeting instance. Brilliance is as transient as the “segment of the rainbow” clutched momentarily by Thoreau; he must have seen something like brilliance in these sentences to cling to. What’s more revealing is the action in the surrounding lines.
According to the earliest version from 1847, these two sentences were located at the very end of “Higher Laws.” In fact, only one sentence comes after them in Version A, which seems hastily tacked on: “But practically I am but only half-converted by my own arguments for I still fish.” Perhaps some of the beauty of the two sentences I mention above stems from the fact they were once the finale of a chapter, the final burst in a flow of thought. In Versions B-D, Thoreau deletes the self-conscious aside and ends “Higher Laws” with the rainbow. But the other sentence trailing off the end reveals how Thoreau was unsatisfied, even then, with this conclusion. In Version E, he expands on the line of thought he originally ended “Higher Laws” with, instead.
Version E shows major revisions in “Higher Laws”: Thoreau changes the beginning of paragraph seven from first person perspective to third person: “I” to “one” or “his,” opening the discussion to his audience, rather than keeping it beholden to himself alone. He also perfects the transition between the end of paragraph seven and the new beginning of the eighth paragraph: the fried rat. For some reason, I found the transition from clutching a segment of rainbow to eating a fried rat “with a good relish” truly humorous. I bet that’s not what Thoreau intended, but the transition is amusingly jarring, and follows from the original tag-along sentence. The opening sentence of paragraph eight reflects a similar sentiment: Thoreau is half-converted by his own arguments because, despite his “true harvest” of highest reality, he knows eating a fried rat may be simultaneously necessary. This new sentence retains the honest self-assessment of the original, with more humor and structural style.
April 3, 2020 at 10:49 pm
This first paragraph is the one I chose as my fluid text example, because in reading both the original and that of version A, I noticed some striking differences. The message overall still rings true, and is seen in both versions: that though time may feel paused in the woods, in such an isolated and serene part of the forest, life continues on, and seasons continue to change. Time, although it often feels abstract, is a constant, and always moving forward. One change I noticed was in the first sentence, when “the whole body is one sense” is changed to “the whole body seems to be one sense” in version A. This is interesting because it takes the state of the body from being a fact to being a subjective thing. It forces the reader to acknowledge that what they’re reading is a subjective reality of the narrator, and is not entirely fact.
April 3, 2020 at 10:16 pm
In the fluid text edition, we can see the way in which Thoreau amends this passage by incorporating significance within the human experience. It is interesting to me that he makes this revision because of the way it shapes his world view and perspective on mankind. Thoreau’s belief we are most interested “when science reports what those men know practically or instinctively…” is one which could be extended to his ideas on how to judge right from wrong.
April 3, 2020 at 10:14 pm
Through looking at the fluid text version, it seems Thoreau removed a sentence from the end that adds more clarity to the thought expressed of belonging to nature and nature being a part of him. This sentence, appearing only in Version A, reads “God is my father & my friend—men are my brothers—but nature is my mother & my sister.” I find the removal and rarity of this concluding line odd as the reference to nature as mother and sister I feel brings more clarity and allows the reader to more easily grasp the question this paragraph poses.
April 3, 2020 at 9:56 pm
[I speak understandingly on this subject, for I have made myself acquainted with it both theoretically and practically. ]
Thoreau made only a few changes to this passage throughout the different versions of Walden, but the majority of them were made to this specific sentence. In Version A, Thoreau had originally written “advisedly” instead of “understandingly”. In Version B, he changed what used to be “gone into” into “made myself acquainted with”. I wonder what led him to make these changes. They do not change the meaning of the passage drastically, but I sense a slight shift in tone from giving advice to more speaking from experience.
April 3, 2020 at 8:45 pm
I have chosen to talk about this paragraph for fluid text influence because to me the change of the text was the most captivating. Certain phrases throughout the first two sentences changed my aspect on the details throughout the journey he took during his writing. The fluid text given to us has helped me understand the peaceful message that Walden was trying to give us, and some sentences I liked more in the fluid version than in this version. I specifically liked when he was talking about the waves sending him through the journey quickly. I also being able to click on specific parts of a sentence to see the changes given and overall understand why Walden decided to make those chagnes.
I also like that throughout all of the passages you can see that some paragraphs did not need to be edited at all and can see how those paragraphs also affected the changes in other paragraphs.
April 3, 2020 at 7:22 pm
[Suddenly an influx of light filled my house, though the evening was at hand, and the clouds of winter still overhung it, and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain. I looked out the window, and lo! where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as in a summer evening, reflecting a summer evening sky in its bosom, though none was visible overhead, as if it had intelligence with some remote horizon. ]
I was particularly interested in the changes made in Versions A-G of Walden: A Fluid Text Edition in paragraph 15 because of the decision to omit this passage altogether. When I read this paragraph, the imagery of the passage was influential in my understanding of paragraph 19, because of the connections of light and dark, winter and spring, death and birth, that are meant to juxtapose each other. Whereas in Versions A-G, the imagery of the gray ice is completely missing and as a result, altered my connection to the remaining paragraphs. It makes me wonder why these lines of vivid description were deleted and why they were no longer relevant or necessary to the text.
April 3, 2020 at 6:46 pm
[The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods south of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its causeway, and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The men on the freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and apparently they take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would fain be a track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.]
In the fluid-text edition of this passage in Walden, this entire paragraph is basically missing. The only piece remaining is the line: “The Fitchburg Railroad then newly constructed touches the pond within about a hundred rods of my house”. I find this very interesting, because the rest of the paragraph was obviously an afterthought.
April 3, 2020 at 6:44 pm
I enjoy this chapter of the book because I think the “solitude” of Thoreau’s situation is one of the most intriguing aspects of the book. I chose to address this passage in particular as I noticed it is completely cut out of Version A of Walden. I wanted to touch upon why this might be as there must have been a reason behind this passage being removed while others remained. As I look at the rest of the passages in this chapter and how they might compare to this paragraph, he starts the chapter off with a very broad sense of how he observes the nature around him. However, he follows this with a paragraph of a specific look into a situation in his own life, then right into another paragraph of an experience he had. I think this second passage in the chapter was removed from Version A because it makes for a smoother transition into a new theme. I also think this creates a deeper sense for the reader by leaving out a paragraph that does not have much meaning to it, while the following paragraph has a more valuable insight to consider following the first paragraph in the chapter.
April 3, 2020 at 5:37 pm
In regards to fluid text, this paragraph I found to be interesting. For starters, this paragraph wasn’t even included in earlier editions, this paragraph didn’t appear until late 1852-1853, nearly five years after Walden first began writing Walden in 1847. Another particularly interesting thing about this paragraph is that Thoreau didn’t change that much, many just the wording – changing things from present tense to past tense and revising the order of the words. Compared to the rest of this portion of the text, more revisions were made in other paragraphs that to this one, which also appeared much later than the others.
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