Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau's Last Journey

Corinne Hosfeld Smith. Green Frigate (IPG, dist.), $28.95 (456p) ISBN 978-1-927043-30-1
In retracing Henry David Thoreau's little known final journey to Minnesota, undertaken in 1861 as he was dying of tuberculosis, librarian Smith mixes the personal and historical with varied success. For each leg of the trip the legendary transcendentalist undertook with a much younger companion, Horace Mann Jr., the author divides her presentation into three parts: documenting the duo's undertakings in that part of the country; updating readers on how the location has changed; and forging her own "Thoreauvian" connection. While the first two strategies are fairly productive, as the author skillfully reconstructs the journey from scraps of notebooks and other obscure sources (primarily Thoreau's Minnesota field notebook) and communicates the ways in which the country has changed in the last 150 years, the third approach is more problematic, with Smith inserting herself into the narrative, and in clich├ęd prose. Some of these side trips are useful (a discourse on Frank Lloyd Wright is illuminating), but including a poem she wrote for a local municipal event reads as indulgent. While Smith too often writes from the perspective of a fan, she succeeds, via enthusiasm and meticulous research, in bringing to life an underreported aspect of Thoreau's life, one that may inspire future studies. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/26/2012
Release date: 06/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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