Emerson and Eros

The Making of a Cultural Hero

By Len Gougeon

Subjects: American History
Paperback : 9780791470787, 278 pages, July 2011
Hardcover : 9780791470770, 278 pages, May 2007

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Table of contents

1. Psychomythic Humanism: Re-centering Reality
2. The Spirit and the Flesh
3. “God’s Child”: Emerson in His Journals
4. “The Devil’s Child”: Emerson’s Early Public Voice
5. The Call To Serve: Re-centering America
Works Cited

Traces the spiritual, psychological, and intellectual evolution of one of America’s most important cultural figures.


This critical biography traces the spiritual, psychological, and intellectual growth of one of America's foremost oracles and prophets, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). Beginning with his undergraduate career at Harvard and spanning the range of his adult life, the book examines the complex, often painful emotional journey inward that would eventually transform Emerson from an average Unitarian minister into one of the century's most formidable intellectual figures. By connecting Emerson's inner life with his outer life, Len Gougeon illustrates a virtually seamless relationship between Emerson's Transcendental philosophy and his later career as a social reformer, a rebel who sought to "unsettle all things" in an effort to redeem his society.

In tracing the path of Emerson's evolution, Gougeon makes use of insights by Joseph Campbell, Erich Neumann, Mircea Eliade, and N. O. Brown. Like Emerson, all of these thinkers directly experienced the fragmentation and dehumanization of the Western world, and all were influenced both directly and indirectly by Emerson and his philosophy. Ultimately, this study demonstrates how Emerson's philosophy would become a major force of liberal reformation in American society, a force whose impact is still felt today.

Len Gougeon is Distinguished University Fellow and Professor of American Literature at the University of Scranton. A former president of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society, he is the author of Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform and coeditor (with Joel Myerson) of Emerson's Antislavery Writings.


"A valuable contribution to Emersonian scholarship, this book, in its consideration of heroism in terms of psychomythism, also provides thoughtful matter for the construction of heroism in the contemporary era." — The Year's Work in English Studies

"This book has a superb project, which is to rejoin Emerson the thinker to Emerson the intuitive 'visionary who feels as well as thinks.' … Gougeon's detailed readings are always compelling, and his arguments engaging and important." — Emerson Society Papers

"…Gougeon deftly connects Emerson's era to our own, making him useful and accessible to a new generation of readers … Gougeon's book is so well written, so sincerely grounded in the writers that connect us to Emerson, that it only enlarges our engagement with the transcendentalist hero." — The New England Quarterly

"…Emerson and Eros plumbs the depths far beyond the simple events in Emerson's life. Students and scholar's [sic] of Emerson's classic works will find the meticulous dissection and reconstruction of Emerson's intellectually formative influences an eye-opening, thoughtful, and compelling assessment." — Midwest Book Review

"[E]ven readers whose knowledge of Emerson is rusty, or those who hardly know more than the name, will absorb [Gougeon's] biography and his main ideas with surprising ease … I have seldom encountered a scholar so steeped in his material—Mr. Gougeon has been studying Emerson for 30 years—and yet so capable of conveying that learning with an admirable lucidity ... Enter the biographer—or rather the biographical critic—as precise as he is passionate, evincing in his evocation of Emerson's eros a deep feeling of his own that renews the sense of his subject as our contemporary." — Carl Rollyson, The New York Sun

"I've read this book with immense pleasure; it is a compelling work of scholarship and spiritual exploration." — Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life

"Gougeon's major contribution will be a portrait of the heroic Emerson, a conventional young man undergoing a spiritual crisis that sends him on an inward journey from which he emerges, reintegrated, to acts of heroism, a rebel against the ossified Fathers, the Establishment itself. This is not just a literary argument directed at specialists. Gougeon's audience is much broader: he wishes to tell a universal story about the genesis and triumph of a hero that will inspire students and general readers today, for we too face a world that is grim and fragmenting, leaderless and resistant to change." — Laura Dassow Walls, author of Emerson's Life in Science: The Culture of Truth