I had been browsing in Thoreauviana and came across a little essay by an author of a pretty big book on Thoreau. He’ll remain unnamed; I want to vent, and do it in relative privacy. Here’s the irritating fact. After 4/5 of the essay being generally sympathetic toward Thoreau, I discovered in the last paragraphs that Thoreau probably should be ‘dismissed’ (he “has no philosophy of human relations”) and is ‘selfish’ — and a ‘menace’ to boot. My pique centered on a feeling of double-cross: I had spend time agreeing with a sensitive and appreciative picture as the author got me again to love Thoreau — and then at the end he throws a tantrum like a jilted lover! What is Thoreau’s power to provoke this sort of violence?
It’s not just that the author disagrees with Thoreau’s individualism on deliberative philosophical grounds. Somehow Thoreau — for this author and others — gets under the skin as a personal irritant and ego attack — maybe like Socrates to all who voted against him. Thoreau gets treated as a delinquent adolescent who disobeys parents and runs off to the woods, abandoning ‘the real’ social-political-economic world and its responsibilities. And thus, however lovable, must be punished.