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Against SustainabilityReading Nineteenth-Century America in the Age of Climate Crisis$
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Michelle Neely

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780823288229

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823288229.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM FORDHAM SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.fordham.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Fordham University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in FSO for personal use.date: 20 June 2021

Joyful Frugality: Thoreau, Dickinson, and the Pleasures of Not Consuming

Joyful Frugality: Thoreau, Dickinson, and the Pleasures of Not Consuming

Chapter:
(p.51) Chapter 2 Joyful Frugality: Thoreau, Dickinson, and the Pleasures of Not Consuming
Source:
Against Sustainability
Author(s):

Michelle C. Neely

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823288229.003.0003

Chapter two counters the ethic of recycling with an anti-consumerist, joyful frugality theorized in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. It begins by evoking Lydia Maria Child, Sylvester Graham, and a popular culture of antebellum frugality advice literature, demonstrating that such advice literature linked refusing to consume with personal happiness and vibrant democratic citizenship. In this nineteenth-century context, Thoreau’s experiments in frugal living at Walden Pond emerge as central to the book’s political and artistic projects. Thoreau’s radical minimalism in Walden is designed to promote both individual happiness and collective social justice as it challenges the consumerist status quo. The last part of the chapter explores Emily Dickinson’s 1860s and 1870s poetry of desire, possession, and consumption. Against readings that have consistently pathologized Dickinson’s approach to these topics, chapter two suggests that Dickinson is a complex theorist of consumer desire whose emphasis on the pleasures of anticipation and the disappointments of consumption have much to teach us in the Capitalocene. This chapter ultimately suggests that Thoreau and Dickinson together theorize a joyful frugality that shifts the site of pleasure away from consumption, making anti-consumerist lifeways seem not only possible, but—more importantly—richly appealing.

Keywords:   Lydia Maria Child, consumerism, consumption, Emily Dickinson, frugality, Sylvester Graham, happiness, minimalism, Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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