Modernizing Solitude: The Networked Individual in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

December 5, 2020
Modernizing Solitude: The Networked Individual in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

An innovative and timely examination of the concept ofsolitude in nineteenth-century American literatureDuring the nineteenth century, the United States saw radicaldevelopments in media and communication that reshaped concepts ofspatiality and temporality. As the telegraph, the postal system,and public transportation became commonplace, the country achieveda level of connectedness that was never possible before. At thislevel, physical isolation no longer equaled psychologicalseparation from the exterior world, and as communication networksproliferated, being disconnected took on negative culturalconnotations.Though solitude, and the lack thereof, is a pressing concern intoday's culture of omnipresent digital connectivity, Yoshiaki Furuishows that solitude has been a significant preoccupation since thenineteenth century. The obsession over solitude is evidenced bymany writers of the period, with consequences for many basicnotions of creativity, art, and personal and spiritualfulfillment.In Modernizing Solitude: The Networked Individual inNineteenth-Century American Literature, Furui examines, amongother works, Henry David Thoreau's Walden, HarrietJacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, HermanMelville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener," Emily Dickinson's poetry andletters, and telegraphic literature in the 1870s to identify thevirtues and values these writers bestowed upon solitude in a timeand place where it was being consistently threatened or devalued.Although each writer has a unique way of addressing the theme, theyall aim to reclaim solitude as a positive, productive state ofbeing that is essential to the writing process and personalidentity. Employing a cross-disciplinary approach to understandmodern solitude and the resulting literature, Furui seeks tohistoricize solitude by anchoring literary works in thisrevolutionary yet interim period of American communication history,while also applying theoretical insights into the literaryanalysis.