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David S. Reynolds
""David Reynolds 5 photograph.jpg
David S. Reynolds
Nationality "American
Education "Amherst College B.A. magna cum laude
"University of California, Berkeley Ph.D.
Occupation "educator, "critic, "biographer, "historian

David S. Reynolds (born 1948) is an American "literary critic, biographer, and "historian noted for his writings on American literature and culture. He is the author or editor of fifteen books,[1] and an expert on the "Civil War era—including figures such as "Walt Whitman, "Abraham Lincoln, "Herman Melville, "Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Edgar Allan Poe, "Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Henry David Thoreau, "Emily Dickinson, "Harriet Beecher Stowe, "George Lippard, and "John Brown. Reynolds has been awarded the "Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the "Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Book Award, the John Hope Franklin Prize (Honorable Mention),and was a finalist for the "National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a regular reviewer for the "New York Times Book Review.


Early life and education[edit]

Reynolds was born in "Providence, Rhode Island on August 30, 1948, and was raised in nearby "Barrington, located near "Narragansett Bay. He attended the "Moses Brown School and the "Providence Country Day School before moving on to "Amherst College, where he received a B. A. in 1970.

After teaching high school English at the "Providence Country Day School for a year, he pursued his graduate studies in American literature and American Studies at the "University of California, Berkeley, where he was awarded his Ph.D. in 1979.

Teaching career[edit]

Reynolds has taught "American literature and "American Studies at "Northwestern University, "Barnard College, "Rutgers University-Camden, "New York University, "Baruch College, and the "Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris III. Since 2006, he has been a Distinguished Professor at the "Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Writings and influence[edit]

Literary criticism[edit]

Reynolds challenges the once-prevalent view—introduced by the "New Critics and later promoted by the "deconstructionists and other theorists—that literature is divorced from the author's life and contexts. His reconstruction of the cultural and social contexts of literature began with his book Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America, which explores some 250 writers from Puritan times through the late 19th century. In Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, Reynolds leverages the title of "F.O. Matthiessen's best known work and expands his thesis. Here Reynolds combines elements of "New Historicism and "cultural studies with archival research to show that great literature is characterized by its radical openness to biographical, political, social, and cultural images, which certain responsive writers adopted and transformed, yielding such symbols as "Melville's white whale, Hawthorne's scarlet letter, "Poe's raven, and Whitman's "grass leaves. Contesting the standard interpretation of America's great writers as marginal figures in a sentimental, proper society, Reynolds reveals that they were instead immersed in a culture that was frequently sensational, subversive, or erotic, epitomized by popular novels about "city mysteries, such as the lurid best-seller "The Quaker City, or The Monks of Monk Hall by the Philadelphia writer "George Lippard (the subject of two other books,[2] by Reynolds).


A proponent of what he terms cultural biography, Reynolds places figures like Walt Whitman and John Brown in their own era. Reynolds is influenced by the “"representative men” theory of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who writes, “the ideas of the time are in the air, and infect all who breathe it…We learn of our contemporaries what they know without effort, and almost through the pores of our skin.”[3] Reynolds argues in John Brown, Abolitionist that Brown was not an isolated, crazed antislavery terrorist but rather an amalgam of social currents—religious, racial, reformist, political—that found explosive realization in him. In Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography, Reynolds takes seriously Whitman’s declarations that he was “the age transfigured” and that “in estimating my volumes, the world’s current times and deeds, and their spirit, must first be profoundly estimated.”[4] Reynolds shows how Whitman’s growing alarm over political controversies, corruption, and class division led him to try to heal his nation through his poetry, which absorbed images from many aspects of social and cultural life, including religion, science, city life, theater, oratory, photography, painting, reform movements, and sexual mores.

American history[edit]

In the field of history, Reynolds highlights the intersection of politics and culture. Enforcing Lincoln’s view that “public sentiment is everything. He who molds public sentiment is greater than he who makes statutes,”[5] Reynolds includes in books like John Brown, Abolitionist, Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, and Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson political and social leaders, artists, musicians, reformers, scientists, artists, ministers, and self-styled religious prophets who shaped American history. In Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, he traces the impact of "Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 best-seller "Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the rise of "Lincoln, the "American Civil War, and worldwide events, including the "end of serfdom in Russia, down to its influence on race relations and popular culture in the twentieth century.


Reynolds’s wife, whose professional name is Suzanne Nalbantian, is a Professor of Comparative Literature at Long Island University who specializes in the interdisciplinary relationship between literature and neuroscience. Her six books include Memory in Literature: From Rousseau to Neuroscience, The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives (coedited with Paul M. Matthews and James B. McClelland), and Aesthetic Autobiography: From Life to Art in the Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin.

Awards and honors[edit]


External video
Booknotes interview with Reynolds on Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography, April 28, 1996, "C-SPAN
Presentation by Reynolds on John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, May 12, 2005, "C-SPAN
After Words interview with Reynolds on Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, December 20, 2008, "C-SPAN
Presentation by Reynolds on Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, May 19, 2011, "C-SPAN
Presentation by Reynolds about Lincoln's Selected Writings, April 14, 2015, "C-SPAN

Books (author)[edit]

Books (editor)[edit]


  1. ^ "Books by David S. Reynolds". ["permanent dead link]
  2. ^ David S. Reynolds, George Lippard (Boston: Twayne, 1982) and George Lippard, Prophet of Protest: Writings of an American Radical, 1822–1854 (New York: Peter Lang, 1986).
  3. ^ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and Lectures (New York: Library of America, 1983), 627.
  4. ^ Whitman, Poetry and Prose (New York: Library of America, 1996), 23; Whitman, Prose Works, 1872, edited by Floyd Stovall (New York: New York University Press, 1964), II: 473.
  5. ^ The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, edited by Harold Holzer (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 75.

External links[edit]

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