I recently read Walden.
I did not enjoy it.
The first fifteen pages or so were misguidingly lovely; politically inspiring and beautifully written. Then came the boredom. The technicalities of living and creating life in the wilderness were presented in dull lists and dry descriptions. But compared to the sentiments that came next, boredom was welcomed.
Thoreau is obnoxiously arrogant. He writes frequently of how living alone in the wilderness is something everyone can and should do. Students could cheaply build their own cabins in the woods instead of complaining about the high prices of housing. One can easily eat wild succulents boiled in salt water with woodchuck meat instead of go to a restaurant and spend money. Rather than making a point about the trap of oppressive and exclusive capitalist luxury, the whole thing feels like a brag. ‘I’m so much better than you because I can live off of stale bread and boiled weeds.’ And more than that, it feels inauthentic. He’ll mention modes of help, horses to carry lumber for instance, but argue, ‘Oh, yeah, I had the horses, but really I did most of the carrying, they barely helped me, I didn’t really need them.’ The book is simply irritating, without any way of proving how much Thoreau really roughed it in the wilderness, and a sense of being spoken down to by a man whose superiority complex is derived from his ability to be content eating rodents and denying himself yeast in bread-making.
By coincidence, I discovered around the same time that I was reading Walden the documentaries on Hannah Hauxwell. Though dated especially in their treatment of gender, they provide a look at a woman who is charming, pleasant, engaging, and authentically living on her own outside of society. You can watch them here: