June 6, 2005
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v2.1 Reference

Hawthorne's Shyness

Ethics, Politics, and the Question of Engagement

In Hawthorne's Shyness, Clark Davis offers both a challenge to current trends in American literary studies and a striking new perspective on the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He proposes an alternative to recent, ideologically driven criticism, including the range of approaches under the banner of New Historicism which continue to dominate the study of American literature. Drawing on ethical theorists including Heidegger, Levinas, Davidson, and Cavell, he finds new models for the relationship between critic and author in their philosophies of engagement with the Other. While these ideas have been increasingly influential in the criticism of European literature, they have so far made fewer inroads into American letters. Davis shows how a "hermeneutics of respect" can transform our relationship to American writers and provide a new, complex understanding of authorial intention.

What makes Davis's work particularly effective, however, is the close integration of his methodological argument with its application. He directly and convincingly reexamines much of the most important current scholarship on Hawthorne, carefully developing and distinguishing his own positions. This important new reading of a central figure in American literary history, significant in its own right, also powerfully demonstrates the potential of Davis's critical approach.

About the Author

Clark Davis is an associate professor of English and associate department chair at the University of Denver.


"A rich and valuable study... An important contribution to Hawthorne criticism and to debates regarding the ethical value of literature."

- Matthew Russell - Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association

"Densely packed, lucid, and subtle, Davis's study teases out 'the shy and sheltered positions' from which, in the words of a contemporary, he surveyed the world."

- John Saunders - Modern Language Review

"Davis's argument and his compelling readings of Hawthorne's work make a timely contribution to Hawthorne criticism and provide a notable example for the validity of reading literature from an ethical perspective."

- Frank Obenland - American Studies


"Clark Davis sets out to offer a critique of a prevailing mode of historicist scholarship in American literary study and to contest that scholarly tradition by offering a new reading of Hawthorne's work, one grounded in a conception of the relation between writer and reader enacted in Hawthorne's writing and informed by the ethical thought of Emmanuel Levinas. The book succeeds on both counts. With the striking and often surprising account of Hawthorne's career and commitments as a writer Davis offers, Hawthorne's Shyness makes a powerful contribution both to our understanding of Hawthorne's work and to our sense of how literary scholarship might be practiced at present."

- Richard Millington, Smith College, author of Practicing Romance: Narrative Form and Cultural Engagement in Hawthorne's Fiction
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9780801880988 : hawthornes-shyness-davis
200 Pages
$56.00 USD

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