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‘Walden’s Shore’ sheds new light on Henry David Thoreau

Campus Correspondent

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 22:12

Many people have heard of Henry David Thoreau, especially if they have taken an American literature course. Most would associate him with the Transcendentalist Movement as well as with his explorations through the American northeast.

But Robert Thorson, a geology professor at the University of Connecticut who gave a reading of his new book at the new UConn Bookstore on Thursday, Dec. 5, has drawn Henry David Thoreau in a new light within his latest book “Walden’s Shore.”

In his book, which also serves as a geological criticism, Thorson portrays Thoreau’s work as strongly grounded in the physical sciences, depicting Thoreau as a scientist as much as a literary figure.

“He’s a damn good physical scientist,” Thorson concludes in his booming lecture hall voice. Through his book he creates a re-interpretation of Thoreau through the eyes of science, and “Walden Pond” as a piece of literature founded in physical geology, “a geo-narrative,” as Thorson described it.

Thorson described how Thoreau’s “Walden Pond” piqued his interests and would not escape his mind as he was working on other pursuits. He had to write the book. The narrative originated from work done with colleagues as well as interacting with students. “It’s a book that comes from teaching,” Thorson said.

He became interested in the idea when he was reading a history on Walden Pond and found geological errors within the text.

He then traced these facts back to an unedited field book and thus decided he needed to re-write the facts and shed light on Thoreau as a scientist in 19th century geology and earth science. “Thoreau knew more about physical science than the state geologist. He had many precious ideas,” Thorson said.

Thorson then read from various sections of the book that he found most important and of interest to the audience and gave his conclusions from each. In the section titled “Of Two Minds,” Thorson begs the question “was Thoreau a poet or a scientist?”

In the end he concludes that he is part of an intransitive system, he is of mixed mindsets that are both stable and equally powerful and therefore transforms from one to the other. Through the readings of the next several sections, Thorson depicts the vast amount of scientific knowledge that Thoreau actually had about the world that he discovered while reading Thoreau’s field journals.

In the section of his book titled “Climate Chang”,Thorson describes an event where Thoreau went on a walk in January and almost froze, but soon warmed up and thawed out. Thorson saw this, as well as many other writings in Thoreau’s journals, as an allegory for bigger ideas that Thoreau had such as possible climate change.

He had knowledge of the ice age and believed that this would eventually occur again. Although he was not exactly correct in his ideas, he knew that climate change could be possible.

In the section “Old Time Religion,” Thorson talked about Thoreau’s distaste for natural theology – thus furthering his true belief in the sciences. In the end, as Thorson read further through Thoreau’s field journals, he concluded that “the more Thoreau immersed himself into nature, he became less and less Transcendentalist.”

Through his ideas Robert Thorson opens another lens through which to look at literature and authors. His conclusions drawn about Thoreau prove to be a new and fresh look at Henry David Thoreau that has never been approached.

It truly blends the avenues of science and literature and has the potential to intrigue a wide variety of readers. “Walden’s Shore” is currently on sale at the UConn Bookstore in the Storrs Center.


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