The Puritan and the Cynic: Moralists and Theorists in French and American Letters

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Oxford University Press, Jan 22, 1987 - Literary Criticism - 124 pages
Why do Americans, and so often, American writers, profess moral sentiments and yet write so little in the traditionally "moralistic" genres of maxim and fable? What is the relation between "moral" concerns and literary theory? Can any sort of morality survive the supposed nihilism of deconstruction? Jefferson Humphries undertakes a discussion of questions like these through a comparative reading of the ways in which moral issues surface in French and American literature. Humphries takes issue with the "amoral" view of deconstruction espoused by many of its detractors, arguing that the debate between the theory's advocates and opponents comes down to two opposing literary and moral traditions. While the American tradition views morality as a rigid system capable of being enforced by injunctions along the lines of "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not," the French tradition conceives of morality as a function of a relentless and unsentimental pursuit of truth, and finally, an admission that "truth" is not a static thing, but rather an ongoing process of rigorous thought.

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Contents

I
3
II
26
III
45
IV
56
V
75
VI
91
VII
105
VIII
107
IX
111
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Page 18 - Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them...
Page 21 - Thus the old gentleman ended his harangue. The people heard it, and approved the doctrine ; and immediately practised the contrary, just as if it had been a common sermon ! For the Vendue opened, and they began to buy extravagantly ; notwithstanding all his cautions, and their own fear of taxes.
Page 19 - I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again.
Page 18 - I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With...
Page 39 - Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors...
Page 37 - A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath-day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen, because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit with power and fervid eloquence, and with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and...
Page 21 - Almanacs, and digested all I had dropped on these topics during the course of twenty-five years. The frequent mention he made of me must have tired any one else, but my vanity was wonderfully delighted with it, though I was conscious that not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own which he ascribed to me, but rather the gleanings that I had made of the sense of all ages and nations.
Page 37 - Be it so if you will ; but, alas ! it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. (^A j stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream...
Page 40 - And now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow.
Page 34 - He presently went out at the back-door, and spied this Bishop, in her orchard, going toward her house; but he had not power to set one foot forward unto her. Whereupon returning into the house, he was immediately accosted by the monster he had seen before; which goblin was now going to fly at him. Whereat he cried out, " The whole Armour of God be between me and you!

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