Critical Overview

(Literary Movements for Students)

Critically speaking, Transcendentalism was not exactly a cohesive movement. In other words, it was a collection of varied ideas and aims that existed among various thinkers, writers, and philosophers. Emerson biographer Richardson says:

Whatever Transcendentalism was, it was not suited to institutionalizing. It gave birth to no academy; it flourished in no college or seminary. It had two collective expressions during its heyday (the club and the magazine called The Dial) but could only manage one at a time.

Emerson is regarded as the center of the movement, but he encouraged his followers to think for themselves. While the movement may not have been a cohesive whole, it was very influential for several American writers.

Critics have responded in varied ways to transcendentalist works. Perhaps Whitman’s Leaves of Grass garnered the strongest responses. Critic Reynolds points out that while there were more positive than negative views of Whitman’s poetry collection, the negative views were very strong:

Some vigorously denounced its sexual explicitness and its egotistical tone. One reviewer blasted the volume as a “mass of filth,” and another insisted that its author must be “some escaped lunatic raving in pitiable delusion.”

Fuller’s critics could also be harsh. She faced the dual challenge of being a woman and...

(The entire section is 305 words.)