Review by Choice Review
West's long, detailed book revolves around the question of what made puns a 19th-century art form relished by ordinary folk and cultivated with genius in the literature of the American Renaissance. West's answers to this question take the reader on a long and often tiresome journey through 19th-century epistemology and etymology. Though the book is invaluable for its research on etymological dictionaries and manuals and for its explanations of 19th-century obsessions with linguistic classification, the reader must put up with West's disrupting attempts at humor and his chafing puns ("this derivation of the woodchuck would eventually be chucked," "Thoreau found himself paying rapt attention to a raptor"). West discusses many major works but pays closest attention to Walden, "the chief literary monument of the etymological fervor that permeated the American Renaissance." His discussion of Dickinson is at times insightful--he points out that in more than 100 of her poems Dickinson attempts to "grasp and state the essence of some word"--but his references to her as "Emily" and "Little Emily" and his infantilizing reading of poem #824 mar his argument. Not for undergraduate collections. D. J. Rosenthal; John Carroll University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
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