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'Superfluous cheerfulness': An exploration of Henry Thoreau's optimism

Minson, Madeleine Sophie; (1999) 'Superfluous cheerfulness': An exploration of Henry Thoreau's optimism. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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My thesis explores the expression and development of Henry Thoreau's optimism throughout his work, with particular emphasis on the forms it takes in the Journal of the 1850s. The critical method I have used in this study is contextualised close reading. Thoreau's optimism, which can be described as his delight in the richness of life and determination to realise its possibilities, is not straightforward, as he is always haunted by a sense of imperfection. No matter how deeply nature thrills him or how far he advances in the direction of his dreams, he never feels quite contented; his hopes tend to overshoot the boundaries of the possible. Although Thoreau's basic desire to make the most of life remains the same, the ways in which he acts on this impulse change radically over the years. Each chapter focuses on one manifestation of his life-long search for fulfilment, starting with the extreme idealism of his early writing and his equally high-minded preoccupation with self-improvement in later youth. Subsequent chapters, which concentrate on the work of the 1850s, explore topics such as how Thoreau's optimism is affected by the transition around 1850 to a more objective approach to nature; his inclination to look ahead and anticipate seasons in the early 1850s; his longing for moments of intensity throughout his writing career; the more earthbound delight he takes in close contact with nature; the all-too-ambitious hopes he attaches to his late chronicling of the progress of the seasons; and the more serene optimism so beautifully embodied by one of his last objects of study, seeds.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: 'Superfluous cheerfulness': An exploration of Henry Thoreau's optimism
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Thoreau, Henry David
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10097431
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