American Audacity

Literary Essays North and South
Christopher Benfey
From one of America's preeminent critics and essayists, a new book in the series Writers on Writing casts new light on some of America's literary masters


One of the foremost critics in contemporary American letters, Christopher Benfey has long been known for his brilliant and incisive essays. Appearing in such publications as the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and the Times Literary Supplement, Benfey's writings have helped us reimagine the American literary canon. In American Audacity , Benfey gathers his finest writings on eminent American authors (including Emerson, Dickinson, Whitman, Millay, Faulkner, Frost, and Welty), bringing to his subjects—as the New York Times Book Review has said of his earlier work—"a scholar's thoroughness, a critic's astuteness and a storyteller's sense of drama."

Although Benfey's interests range from art to literature to social history, this collection focuses on particular American writers and the various ways in which an American identity and culture inform their work. Broken into three sections, "Northerners," "Southerners," and "The Union Reconsidered," American Audacity explores a variety of canonical works, old (Emerson, Dickinson, Millay, Whitman), modern (Faulkner, Dos Passos), and more contemporary (Gary Snyder, E. L. Doctorow).

Cover photo © Jim Gipe/Pivot Media

Christopher Benfey is the author of numerous highly regarded books, including Emily Dickinson: Lives of a Poet; The Double Life of Stephen Crane; Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable; and, most recently, The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan; and A Summer of Hummingbirds. Benfey's poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Pequod, and Ploughshares. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Currently he is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.

Praise / Awards

  • "A gifted literary historian and critic."
    The New York Review of Books

  • "Mr. Benfey is both thoughtful and erudite."
    The New York Times

  • "In its vigorous and original criticism of American writers, Christopher Benfey's American Audacities display its own audacities on every page."
    —William H. Pritchard

  • "This splendid collection of review-essays on American writers combines sharp biographical detail with apt quotation and fine critical insight."
    —Morris Dickstein, author of Leopards in the Temple and A Mirror in the Roadway

  • "Longer than book reviews and shorter than lengthy reappraisals of a poet or critic, the individual essays exhibit a confident, if modest, touch...His unadorned sentences...will encourage readers to buy books by the bibliographers and scholars he reviews as well as return readers to the audacious figures that comprise America's literary history."
    —Larry T. Shillock, Bloomsbury Review

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Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 256 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02580-0

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