by Kathleen Coyne Kelly
Welcome to the 2021 issue of The Concord Saunterer, my first as Editor. It represents, in part, answers to the many questions that I asked of the previous Editor, John Kucich; Associate Editor, Alex Moskowitz; and Executive Director of the Thoreau Society, Mike Frederick — and, of course, answers to the endless questions that I asked of the authors themselves. Everyone was extremely patient, for which I am grateful.
The essays in this issue exemplify what happens when one returns to Henry David Thoreau’s works and asks new questions, or asks old questions at a slant. First, Brent Ranalli takes on the “laundry sneer,” as he calls it in “Laundry!,” a lively deconstruction of the charge that high school English teachers love to level against Thoreau: while sojourning at Walden Pond, he brought his mother his dirty laundry! This essay demonstrates the importance of historical perspective: Ranalli asks, what was it like to do laundry in Thoreau’s day? Women, no surprise, traditionally did laundry, but under what conditions did men do it? More important, how did not doing laundry further Thoreau’s purposes at Walden? Mark Gallagher was looking for something else entirely when he came across a tantalizing pencil drawing of a house in Emerson’s edition of Plato’s works—a house very like the house that Thoreau built at Walden. Gallagher asked himself, could this have been drawn by Thoreau? And if so, what conclusion is to be drawn (if I may pun) from this marginal image and its placement in the Republic? “Finding Walden in Emerson’s Plato” is an exercise in literary sleuthing.
A few years ago, I taped to my filing cabinet a xerox copy of notes written by Thoreau on the wolf that Christopher V. Dolle and Raymond F. Dolle discuss in their “Thoreau’s Last Wolves in the Natural History Notebooks.” When I read their essay for this issue, I felt a little frisson of recognition. I had been merely practicing transcribing Thoreau’s handwriting, but Dolle and Dolle pursue a much more substantial agenda while reading Thoreau’s notes on the accounts of bears, wolves, and panthers found in Mayne Reid’s The Boy Hunters, John Lawson’s A New Voyage to Carolina, and Frederick Gerstaecker’s Wild Sports in the Far West (see the cover for one of the lurid illustrations from this book, and p. 56 for Thoreau’s description of a lupine serenade in The Maine Woods). Dolle and Dolle wondered, what did Thoreau glean from these books? What can we glean from examining Thoreau’s notes? In one respect, these notes can be read as a lament on presence/absence, on animals extirpated and extinct. In “‘Here are the model children!’: Revisiting Louisa May Alcott’s Representations of Her Parents’ Educational Theories,” Azelina Flint takes up the educational ethos of one of Thoreau’s neighbors, Louisa May Alcott. Flint explores the influence of Alcott’s parents and their educational theories on Plumfield as depicted in Little Men and Jo’s Boys. After reading Flint, one may well look askance at Bronson Alcott’s educational practices while feeling quite relieved for the influence of Abigail Alcott on Louisa May.
Rupendra Guha-Majumdar offers us a wide-ranging history of how Prometheus became such a resonant trope for Thoreau and others in “Thoreau, Prometheus, and the Universal Discourse of ‘Civil Disobedience.’” Guha-Majumdar, rather than simply nodding at the many references to Prometheus in nineteenth-century American letters, instead asks, to what ends was the story of Prometheus invoked in the time leading up to the American Civil War? Toby J. Svoboda reassesses Thoreau’s philosophical fidelities in “Thoreau’s Walden: Epicureanism or Stoicism?,” and reminds us that just what kind of philosopher Thoreau was remains open to question.
We’re pleased to include creative pieces that have an intertextual relationship with Thoreau’s Journal: James Perrin Warren’s “Sixty Excursions and Thoreau’s Journal,” and Charles Weld’s “Bird Poems.” Cecelia Musselman has provided a photograph of the rhizomatous Nymphaea odorata, the native waterlily, taken at Heywood Meadow.
During the time that I was reading the essays—which required a shifting back and forth of attention between the why of the essay and line editing using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature—I was being read and track-changed myself. I had finally managed to finish two essays and gotten them accepted during the terrible Slough of Despond that many of us found ourselves in during the pandemic. This bi-directional process made me think of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s metaphor of the rhizome (in its least feverish version!). Compared to plants with taproots or fibrous roots that grow vertically, a rhizomatous plant sends out roots laterally; along the roots are nodes that develop into new plants, which then send out roots with nodes of their own. The native Monardas, or bee balms, are a good example. (Thoreau identifies Monarda fistulosa and Monarda didyma in his Journal.) Deleuze and Guattari deploy the rhizome to describe the world as a non-hierarchical, non-binary, multiplicity of filaments and effects—a multiplicity that, I would add, is constituted by a probing inquisitiveness: and? and? and? The rhizome is a useful image for representing the ways that we in the humanities make, and endorse, knowledge: we are dependent upon each of us spelling the other. Behind every peer-reviewed essay in The Concord Saunterer is an agencement (an arrangement of relations and potencies) of individuals. This includes, most obviously, Thoreau and his circle; the scholars, students, and enthusiasts who invent new questions to ask of Henry and friends; the external reviewers who then ask questions of the work of said scholars, students, and enthusiasts—reviewers who themselves may well submit something to The Saunterer for consideration in the future. It is ethical work, this multi-nodal, multi-directional querying. I think that Thoreau would have liked the concept of the Deleuzian rhizome, in part because Deleuze and Guattari borrow their conceit from botany, in part because the rhizome is also a good way to think through our relation to the natural world. As Deleuze and Guattari put it, a “rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” (25). To view the world as rhizomatic is to see it as comprised of events, of things in motion and in relation to one another; this, I think, is how Thoreau aspired to live, in a perpetual becoming.
We are introducing a new feature with this issue of The Saunterer. Authors now include an abstract and a list of keywords, which will help make our scholarship more visible across the decidedly rhizomatic internet. Finally, I want to acknowledge the stress and suffering that the pandemic caused, and continues to cause, in our Thoreauvian community and beyond. I dedicate this issue to all of those we have lost, including Barry David Hoberman, the finest editor I have ever known.
Kathleen Coyne Kelly
November 24th, 2021
Kathleen Coyne Kelly, Cambridge, Massachusetts November 24th, 2021
The two drawings are from Thoreau’s Journal, the first of the Nymphaea odorata in flower (July 1st 1852) and the second of its rhizomatous root (18 April 1856).
1 For an exploration of Thoreau’s walking as rhizomatic, see Marcus, “On Thoreau, Walking, & Nature.”
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. “Introduction: Rhizome,” in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi. U of Minnesota P, 1987.
Marcus, Andrew Todd. “On Thoreau, Walking, & Nature,” Thresholds