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Emerson: The Mind on Fire: A Biography Study Guide & Plot Summary

Robert D. Richardson
This Study Guide consists of approximately 41 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Emerson.
This section contains 457 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Emerson: The Mind on Fire: A Biography Study Guide

Emerson: The Mind on Fire: A Biography Summary & Study Guide Description

Emerson: The Mind on Fire: A Biography Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Emerson: The Mind on Fire: A Biography by Robert D. Richardson.

Plot Summary

This book is a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson's life and and work. The author equally focuses on Emerson's private and public lives, because they are so intertwined.

The biography begins with Ralph Waldo Emerson visiting the tomb of his wife, who had died the year before. He opens her coffin to try to convince himself that she is truly dead. This story of some of the deepest sadness in Emerson's life then jumps eleven years earlier when he was a senior at Harvard. His college life is described, as well as aspects of his character. The book then rewinds one year earlier to his junior year and those events and people that inspire Emerson in his life and ideas.

The book rewinds still further back to his childhood and family life, describing his family and Emerson's relationship with them. His Aunt Mary Moody Emerson was a large influence on his life. After graduating from Harvard, Emerson joined the family teaching tradition. He also read books of all varieties but seemed most interested in Scottish Common Sense. It contradicted and critiqued Hume in a way Emerson would throughout his life. The book returns to describing the Emerson brothers and their close relationship. This chapter focuses on each brother in turn. The story then returns to Emerson's teaching. This was a very isolated time in his life; he wished for so much more.

As William goes to Germany to study religion, Emerson creates his own vision of Germany through the works of Mme. de Stael. Emerson grows more productive with his reading and writing and decides to study divinity. He gives up teaching and goes to Cambridge and registers for divinity school. As he studies various theories on religion, he never gives up reading and writing about other topics. After some time in the south recovering from illness, he returns to Boston to preach in his father's church. On Christmas Day 1827, he meets Ellen Tucker, an event that would forever change his life. Soon Emerson is preaching in the Second Church in Boston and married to Ellen; these were some of the best years of his life. Sadly, Ellen's health deteriorates as Emerson's religious views begin to change. With Ellen's death, Emerson is not only separated from his wife but also from the church and social obligations. He leaves the church and leaves the country.

Emerson spends many months traveling throughout Europe, seeing the sights, making friends, and speaking with other writers. After returning home, he falls in love and marries Lydia (Lidian) Jackson. The remainder of his life sees the birth, and death, of children, the development and success of his career as a writer, editor, and public speaker, and many trying and exhilarating times.

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This section contains 457 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Emerson: The Mind on Fire: A Biography Study Guide
Emerson: The Mind on Fire: A Biography from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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