Walking with the Greats: 19th-Century Literature

Lock, Norman. A Fugitive in Walden Woods. Bellevue Literary. Jun. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781942658221. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781942658238. F
Lock has embarked on a fascinating intellectual and artistic endeavor: engaging key American writers from the 19th century through a series of speculative historical novels. His well-received books include those on Twain (The Boy in His Winter), Whitman (American Meteor), and Poe (The Port-Wine Stain). In his latest installment, the author examines the life and work of Henry David Thoreau through the eyes of an escaped slave, Samuel Long. Lock handles the many complexities of this challenge skillfully and respectfully. Long has cut off one of his hands to escape a plantation in the South and is smuggled north via the Underground Railroad. He finds himself in Concord, MA, under the sponsorship of Ralph Waldo Emerson and protégé Thoreau. This conceit allows Lock to test the ideas of Emerson and Thoreau in the crucible of a very different kind of self-reliance and relationship to nature and America. There is no sermonizing here, just thought-provoking juxtapositions and conversations. Ultimately, what emerges is a unique and affectionate homage to Thoreau. Verdict Recommended for fans of 19th-century American literature.— Patrick ­Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

Maxwell, Glyn. Drinks with Dead Poets: A Season of Poe, Whitman, Byron, and the Brontës. Pegasus. Aug. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781681774626. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681774985. F
At the start of this novel–cum–course syllabus, Maxwell, award-winning British poet and protagonist/narrator, materializes on a road outside an idyllic English university town. He’s not sure whether he’s dreaming or in heaven, but he knows he’s teaching a poetry course and that the ghosts of the poets on his 12-week syllabus will appear, one each week, for a reading to his class. The novel, nearly incoherent at times, is rife with Britishisms (milk float, anyone?), yet like the best poetry, there is much to be found between the lines and blank spaces. Classroom camaraderie blooms over the term; we’re thrust into an adjunct professor’s frustrations and feel the glorious high of teaching. Visiting poets Keats, Poe, Coleridge (stoned again!), John Clare, and Byron, to mention a few, become real to us, and their ramblings, extracted from their actual writings, are no more random than any guest lecturer’s. VERDICT If 19th-century poetry is a gap in your education, ­Maxwell’s charming and learned novel will fill it more than you could hope. It joins his marvelous nonfiction text, On Poetry; reading both is not required, but you’ll want to.—Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA

This article was published in Library Journal's June 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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