Scott Hess, “Walden Pond as Thoreau’s Landscape of Genius” (pp. 224–250)

This essay explores how Henry David Thoreau’s identification with Walden Pond was influenced by the nineteenth-century discourse of the literary landscape and by William Wordsworth’s association with the English Lake District in particular. Wordsworth was a central figure for the transatlantic development of the “landscape of genius”—a new form of literary landscape in which the genius of the author, associated with a specific natural landscape, mediated the spiritual power of nature for individual readers and tourists. Wordsworth’s identification of his authorial identity with the Lake District landscape had a formative influence on both Thoreau’s self-conception and his subsequent reception and canonization, as Thoreau and Walden Pond as his landscape of genius entered the canon together. The essay concludes by exploring the ongoing significance of Thoreau’s association with Walden for both his scholarly and popular reputations, including proliferating discourses of “Thoreau Country”; cultural and political disputes over the Concord and Walden landscapes; and invocations of Thoreau as an ecological hero and inspiration for responses to climate change.

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