Death and Grief in the Lives of Emerson and Thoreau:
What Can and Cannot be Shared

Thoreau Society presentations at ALA Conference 2002


On May 31, 2002, The Thoreau Society presented a panel at the American Literature Association annual conference in Long Beach, California. The presenters at the second Thoreau Society panel, "Transcending Tragedy: What Can and Cannot be Shared," had been asked to consider how (or whether) the Transcendentalistsí philosophy can help 21st-century citizens cope with a disaster of the magnitude of September 11, 2001. Without condescension to a less global historical era, the panelists focused on responses to death and grief in the lives of Emerson and Thoreau.

The "Transcending Tragedy" session was chaired by Thoreau Society board member Laura Dassow Walls. Selected participants' papers are reprinted here, with the authorsí permissions.

"Goodness and Grief: Emersonís Pain" by Jennifer Gurley, Berkeley & Colgate
Why Emerson, although harrowed by numerous excruciating losses of loved ones, believed genuine grief is not to be shared even within oneís personal circle, let alone the reading public.

"In The Mo(u)rning" by David Justin Hodge, Harvard
Privacy and privation in Emerson and Thoreau. The relationship between solitude and wakefulness to life. How "the privative" bears upon individual privacy (alone-ness) in the case of Thoreau living at Walden.

"Thoreau & Sudden, Violent Death" by Randall Conrad, The Thoreau Project
Examines Thoreauís journal entry of January 7, 1853 (viewing the result of a powdermill explosion) as the start of a grieving process Thoreau must undertake.

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Updated April 27 2005