Lawrence Buell (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Buell, Lawrence. “Thoreau's A Week.” In Literary Transcendentalism: Style and Vision in the American Renaissance, pp. 208‐38. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973.

[In the following excerpt, Buell traces the course of A Week and explains how it displays, through “endless suggestiveness,” the Transcendentalist sensibility.]

Written largely during his years at Walden Pond, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers comes closer than any of Thoreau's later writing to an unguarded expression of his relationship to nature.1 In Walden the speaker is obviously much more familiar with his surroundings, but he is also...

(The entire section is 10675 words.)

Paul David Johnson (essay date March 1977)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Johnson, Paul David. “Thoreau's Redemptive Week.American Literature 49, no. 1 (March 1977): 22‐33.

[In the following essay, Johnson contends that the quest for self‐liberation is central to A Week, a quest advanced through the cyclical representation of time.]

We have forgotten that much of the “private business” which Thoreau transacted at Walden was the writing of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and have lost sight of the intimate connections between Thoreau's writing of A Week and the activities at Walden which gave birth to his second, more famous book. His program for living a wholly natural life by...

(The entire section is 4669 words.)

Walter Hesford (essay date fall 1977)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hesford, Walter. “‘Incessant Tragedies’: A Reading of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.ELH 44, no. 3 (fall 1977): 515‐24.

[In the following essay, Hesford interprets A Week as a call for faith in response to the incessant tragedies of nature and life.]

There are studies of Henry Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers which begin to do justice to its structure, style, and import. Even the most astute and sympathetic critics1 have not, however, accounted, I think, for the power, the impression of the book, perhaps because they are generally preoccupied with its merits as a transcendental...

(The entire section is 4855 words.)

Jamie Hutchinson (essay date fourth quarter 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hutchinson, Jamie. “‘The Lapse of the Current’: Thoreau's Historical Vision in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 25, no. 4 (fourth quarter 1979): 211‐22.

[In the following essay, Hutchinson contends that A Week documents Thoreau's belief in historical progress and that he sought inspiration, not eternity, in his river voyage.]

A people without history is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern of timeless moments.

—T. S. Eliot

Eternity is in love with the productions of time....

(The entire section is 7858 words.)

David B. Suchoff (essay date fall 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Suchoff, David B. “‘A More Conscious Silence’: Friendship and Language in Thoreau's Week.ELH 49, no. 3 (fall 1982): 673‐87.

[In the following essay, Suchoff contends that Thoreau sought to understand the mystery of nature through friendship rather than language.]

“It is difficult to begin without borrowing,” Thoreau tells us as he relates the borrowing of an ax to found his cabin at Walden, “but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow men to have an interest in your enterprise.”1 The project of Walden, promising to take the writer to the “necessary of life” (7), and at the same time to...

(The entire section is 6907 words.)

Joan Burbick (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Burbick, Joan. “Henry David Thoreau: The Uncivil Historian.” Bucknell Review 28, no. 1 (1983): 81‐97.

[In the following essay, Burbick analyzes Thoreau's views concerning the treatment of history, including his disdain for historical approaches that rely on romantic and novelistic techniques.]

By the first half of the nineteenth century, Americans were searching for histories that would justify their actions both at home and abroad. The romantic historians of this period in part satisfied this demand, creating stories that sustained the ideal of progress, the triumph of civilization, and the necessary control of “primitive” forces. George Bancroft,...

(The entire section is 9369 words.)

Linck C. Johnson (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Johnson, Linck C. “‘Whose Law is Growth’: A Week and Thoreau's Early Literary Career.” In Thoreau's Complex Weave: The Writing of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, pp. 202‐47. Charlottesville, Va.: The University Press of Virginia, 1986.

[In the following excerpt, Johnson relates the troubled ten‐year history of A Week, from the river trip to initial publication.]

As the above chapters indicate, the writing of A Week charts Thoreau's literary and intellectual development from his years at Harvard to its publication in 1849. But he was not simply becoming a mature artist during this period. He was also becoming a man, a...

(The entire section is 17741 words.)

Donald M. Murray (essay date June 1987)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Murray, Donald M. “Symbolic Landscape in the Greylock Episode of Thoreau's Week.American Transcendental Quarterly 1, no. 2 (June 1987): 123‐32.

[In the following essay, Murray offers a Freudian reading of the ascent of Mt. Greylock, claiming that Thoreau was motivated by Oedipal conflicts.]

We are closer than ever before to an understanding of young Thoreau's psychological problems, and we see more clearly than ever before the formal patterns in his book, A Week On the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Yet certain striking features of the chapter “Tuesday” remain unexplained. There is an arresting quality in the brief portrait of the young...

(The entire section is 5264 words.)

Marvin Fisher (essay date summer 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fisher, Marvin. “Seeing New Englandly: Anthropology, Ecology, and Theology in Thoreau's Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.The Centennial Review 34, no. 3 (summer 1990): 381‐93.

[In the following essay, Fisher considers Edward Johnson's apocalyptic‐imbued history of the settlement of New England and its influence on Thoreau.]

The title of Henry Thoreau's first book announces an authorial strategy that either failed utterly or succeeded only as irony. It echoes the titles of countless travel books by British and continental visitors and by American devotees of the scenic picturesque. Authors from Irving, Cooper, and Hawthorne to Whitman...

(The entire section is 5637 words.)

H. Daniel Peck (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Peck, H. Daniel. “Killing Time.” In Thoreau's Morning Work: Memory and Perception in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, the Journal, and Walden, pp. 3‐21. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990.

[In the following excerpt, Peck analyzes Thoreau's concern with the nature of time, showing how he responded with literary techniques of temporal disorder and creative remembering.]

On January 8, 1842, the day his brother John began to experience the first symptoms of the virulent infection that would kill him three days later, Henry Thoreau was thinking of time. In his Journal, he asks meditatively: “Of what manner of stuff is the...

(The entire section is 7975 words.)

Frederick Garber (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Garber, Frederick. “A Space for Saddleback.” In Thoreau's Fable of Inscribing, pp. 116‐41. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.

[In the following excerpt, Garber argues that Thoreau inserted the Saddleback Mountain climbing episode in order to show the insufficiency of textual and temporal closures.]

The logic of this study derives, in part, from the logic of Thoreau's thought on some very basic questions about being at home in the world. From language, to writing, to the field of inscribings of which writing is a part, to the functions of autography as a mode of self‐inscribing—each of these actions or consequences implies and...

(The entire section is 14492 words.)

William Rossi (essay date June 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rossi, William. “Poetry and Progress: Thoreau, Lyell, and the Geological Principles of A Week.American Literature 66, no. 2 (June 1994): 275‐93.

[In the following essay, Rossi demonstrates that much of Thoreau's view of science can be traced to Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology.]

Well‐known for its witty criticisms of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers's reflective sections as “digressions” from the boating narrative, James Russell Lowell's influential review quickly became the locus classicus for discussions of the book's apparent lack of coherence. “We come upon them like snags, jolting us headforemost out of our...

(The entire section is 10543 words.)

Stephen Adams (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Adams, Stephen. “The Genres of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.” In Approaches to Teaching Thoreau's Walden and Other Works, edited by Richard J. Schneider, pp. 143‐9. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1996.

[In the following essay, Adams explains the teaching opportunities that arise from exploring the question of A Week's genre.]

The “drama” of Sunday in Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers concludes “without regard to any unities which we mortals prize. Whether it might have proved tragedy, or comedy, or tragi‐comedy, or pastoral, we cannot tell” (114). Many readers...

(The entire section is 3119 words.)

Eric Wilson (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wilson, Eric. “Thoreau, Thales, and the Distribution of Water.” The Concord Saunterer 6 (1998): 27‐41.

[In the following essay, Wilson explores Thoreau's concept—borrowed from the philosopher Thales—of water as the fundamental principle of the cosmos.]

On New Year's Day, 1851, Thoreau as usual set out on his afternoon walk, exhilarated by another warm day, the third in a row, surrounded, though the sky was sunless, by a luminous mist. He made his way to a deep cut in the bank around Walden Pond, his former habitat. There he beheld thawing clay, the frozen earth melting under the plastic power of midwinter spring: earth returning to first water....

(The entire section is 8821 words.)