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Walden

Walden, or, Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854.

Walden Pond

 

 

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HENRY DAVID THOREAU (1817-1862)
Walden

pixel.gif “When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months.”
—Walden

Although Walden enjoyed only moderate success in Thoreau's lifetime, his experiment in the wilderness would spark considerable interest in the years to come. Thoreau's words expressed the concerns of many of his contemporaries as industrialization and war altered the world around them.

In 1845, while other Transcendentalists sought retreat at Brook Farm, Thoreau, ever an individualist, went to Walden Pond, a sixty-two acre body of water, a few miles from his parents' home in Concord, Massachusetts, and selected a spot to build a cabin. The site he picked was on land belonging to his close friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over the next five years, through seven drafts, Walden evolved from a sometimes shrill justification of Thoreau's unorthodox lifestyle into a complex, multi-layered account of a spiritual journey.

Thoreau and the Transcendentalist movement in New England grew up together. Thoreau was nineteen years old when Emerson published “Nature,” an essay that articulates the philosophical underpinnings of the movement. Transcendentalism began as a radical religious movement, opposed to the rationalist, conservative institution that Unitarianism had become. Many of the movement's early proponents were or had been Unitarian ministers, Emerson among them. Transcendentalism can be seen as the religious and intellectual expression of American democracy: all men had an equal chance of experiencing and expressing divinity directly, regardless of wealth, social status, or politics.

Thoreau’s work influenced countless later utopian projects, from the hippie communes of the 1960s to Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury characters at their commune, Walden.

 

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