The Law of the Heart: Individualism and the Modern Self in American Literature

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University of Texas Press, Nov 1, 2011 - Literary Criticism - 192 pages
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The Law of the Heart is a vigorous challenge to the prevailing concept of the “antidemocratic” image of the self in the American literary and cultural tradition. Sam B. Girgus counters this interpretation and attempts to develop a new understanding of democratic individualism and liberal humanism in American literature under the rubric of literary modernism.

The image of the individual self who retreats inward, conforming to a distorted “law of the heart,” emerges from the works of such writers as Cooper and Poe and composer Charles Ives. Yet, as Girgus shows, other American writers relate the idea of the self to reality and culture in a more complex way: the self confronts and is reconciled to the paradox of history and reality.

In Girgus’ view, the tradition of pragmatic, humanistic individualism provides a foundation for a future where individual liberty is a major priority. He uses literary modernism as a bridge for relating contemporary social conditions to crises of the American self and culture as seen in the works of writers including Emerson, Howells, Whitman, Henry James, William James, Fitzgerald, Bellow, and McLuhan.

 

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Contents

Individualism and the Perverted Self
3
Poe and the Transcendent Self
24
The Scholar the Self
37
Culture and Self
52
The Rebel in the OneDimensional Age
66
Inner Death and Freedom in Henry James
84
A Modern Perversion
100
The Dynamics of Modern
108
A Theory
129
The Continuing Search
140
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About the author (2011)

Sam B. Girgus is Professor of English at Vanderbilt University and the author of many books.

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