A Summer of Hummingbirds (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
The Civil War was a watershed in American history. Before the war, American life was built upon a series of religious and social truths few people questioned. After the war, America began its transformation into the modern world, and the pre-war certainties gave way to doubt and instability. The exploding growth of the Gilded Age following the Civil War was accompanied by intellectual tremors set off by Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and other skeptics of inherited Calvinist ideas. Historians have charted this transformation in the second half of the nineteenth century in a number of different ways, but in A Summer of Hummingbirds, Christopher Benfey has found a unique expression of the change.
He follows a group of American artists and writers linked by family and friendship, tracing their responses to the changing postbellum world through their poetry and art, their motifs and metaphors, and in particular the striking image of the hummingbird. “In science and in art, in religion and in love, they came to see a new dynamism and movement in their lives, a brave new world of instability and evanescence. This dynamism, in all aspects of life, found perfect expression in the hummingbird.”
Benfey divides his study into three parts: from conflict (images of the Civil War), through confinement (images of prison), to release (images of flight or of escape). Part One is called “An Oblique War,” from a phrase Emily Dickinson used in a...
(The entire section is 1615 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
ARTnews 107, no. 9 (October, 2008): 50.
The Atlantic Monthly 302, no. 1 (July/August, 2008): 141.
Booklist 104, no. 16 (April 15, 2008): 18-19.
Library Journal 133, no. 6 (April 1, 2008): 83.
The New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2008, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly 255, no. 7 (February 18, 2008): 144.
The Times Literary Supplement, January 2, 2009, pp. 7-8.
(The entire section is 36 words.)