Harold K. Bush’s Continuing Bonds with the Dead examines the profound transfiguration that the death of a child wrought on the literary work of nineteenth-century American writers. Taking as his subjects Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and W. E. B. Du Bois, Bush demonstrates how the death of a child became the defining “before-and-after moment” in their lives as adults and as artists. In narrating their struggles, Bush maps the intense field of creative energy induced by reverberating waves of parental grief and the larger nineteenth-century culture of mortality and grieving.
Bush explores in detail how each of these five writers grappled with and were altered by the loss of a child. He writes, for example, with moving insights about how the famed author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn found himself adrift on a river of grief when meningitis struck down his daughter, Susy. In his deeply learned exploration of Twain’s subsequent work, Bush illuminates how Twain wrote to cope with Susy’s death, to make sense of her persistent presence in his life, and possibly to redeem her loss. Passionate and personal, Bush’s insightful prose traces the paths of personal transformation each of these emblematic American writers took in order to survive the spiritual trauma of loss.
The savage Civil War was America’s shared “before and after moment,” the pivot upon which the nation’s future swung. Bush’s account of these five writers’ grief amplifies our understanding of America’s evolving, national relationship to mourning from then to the present.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Harold K. Bush is a professor of English at Saint Louis University and the author of Lincoln in His Own Time, Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age, and American Declarations: Rebellion and Repentance in American Cultural History.
PRAISE FOR CONTINUING BONDS
“In this elegantly written book, Harold K. Bush interweaves biography, autobiography, psychology, theology, literary analysis, and cultural history to make striking revelations about five leading Americans—Stowe, Lincoln, Howells, Twain, and Du Bois—each of whom suffered the devastating loss of a child. In Bush’s masterful rendering, this heartbreaking experience caused shock and enduring sorrow even as it yielded some of the greatest literary meditations on faith and philosophy that America has witnessed. Continuing Bonds with the Dead is a scholarly tour de force and a deeply moving testament to the power of the human spirit in the face of personal tragedy.”
—David S. Reynolds, author of Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville and Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography
“In this profoundly moving and mysteriously hopeful book, Harold K. Bush speaks what Nathaniel Hawthorne memorably called ‘the heart’s native language.’ Bush’s own searing experience of loss and grief has enabled him to hear in the work of five outstanding American writers–from Abraham Lincoln to W. E. B. Du Bois–a deep undertone of sorrow and longing that sounded throughout their lives and continues to resonate in their works. Continuing Bonds with the Dead is a wise and life-affirming study of human experience at the brink. It is a book to be read with compassionate care and heartfelt gratitude.”
—Roger Lundin, author of Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief
256 pp / 8 B&W illustrations
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1902-1 Cloth
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8954-3 Ebook