Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life (Hardcover)

A Rediscovered Life

By Charles C. Calhoun

Beacon Press, 9780807070260, 352pp.

Publication Date: June 15, 2004



Charles C. Calhoun's Longfellow gives life, at last, to the most popular American poet who ever lived, a nineteenth-century cultural institution of extraordinary influence and the"one poet average, nonbookish Americans still know by heart" (Dana Gioia).

Calhoun's Longfellow emerges as one of America's first powerful cultural makers: a poet and teacher who helped define Victorian culture; a major conduit for European culture coming into America; a catalyst for the Colonial Revival movement in architecture and interior design; and a critic of both Puritanism and the American obsession with material success. Longfellow is also a portrait of a man in advance of his time in championing multiculturalism: He popularized Native American folklore; revived the Evangeline story (the foundational myth of modern Acadian and Cajun identity in the U.S. and Canada); wrote powerful poems against slavery; and introduced Americans to the languages and literatures of other lands.

Calhoun's portrait of post-Revolutionary Portland, Maine, where Longfellow was born, and of his time at Bowdoin and Harvard Colleges, show a deep and imaginative grasp of New England cultural history. Longfellow's tragic romantic life-his first wife dies tragically early, after a miscarriage, and his second wife, Fannie Appleton, dies after accidentally setting herself on fire-is illuminated, and his intense friendship with abolitionist and U.S. senator Charles Sumner is given as a striking example of mid-nineteenth-century romantic friendship between men. Finally, Calhoun paints in vivid detail Longfellow's family life at Craigie House, including stories of the poet's friends-Hawthorne, Emerson, Dickens, Fanny Kemble, Julia Ward Howe, and Oscar Wilde among them.

About the Author

Born in Louisiana, Charles C. Calhoun studied history at the University of Virginia and law at Christ Church, Oxford. He divides his time between Boston and Portland, where he is on the staff of the Maine Humanities Council.

Praise For Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life

"A sprightly, long-needed biography of 19th-century America's most famous, myth-making poet . . . An enormously sympathetic portrait of a universally admired gentleman [that] could well encourage a new generation to read Longfellow."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Masterful . . . warm and vivid . . . and solid in placing [Longfellow] in the context of [his] times."--Michael Kenney, Boston Sunday Globe

"Calhoun's biography is commendable. . . His defense of Longfellow's poetry is all the more forceful for never being overstated."--Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer

"[A] sympathetic and welcome biography. . . Calhoun has written a fine book."--Patrick J. Walsh, Christian Science Monitor

"[A] readable, informative biography. . . Longfellow became for his day an international icon of literature and civility."--Tony Lewis, Providence Sunday Journal