From "A Psalm of Life" and "The Village Blacksmith" to Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha, Longfellow provided middle-class Americans with models of self-comportment and means for coping with the anxieties and stresses of a commercial society on the move. Mixing tones of melancholy and patient resolution, the poetry served to attenuate polarized gender roles and, especially, to authorize a sentimental or domestic style of masculinity in opposition to more aggresive, competitive, business-oriented modes of "manliness." Though this body of verse employs martial imagery and masculinist terms in order to evoke the tenor of mind and will required by an increasingly complex socioeconomic environment, Longfellow converts these images and terms to elaborate a "feminized" ideal of personal and social behavior: sublimative, spiritualized, quietly persistent. The figure of Evangeline crosses gender lines to instruct both men and women how to bear up under the burden of American "modernity," while that of Hiawatha blends gender traits to embody a soft-but-still-manly masculinity, with implications for both heterosexual and homosocial relations. The efficacy and the very premises of Longfellow's cultural service, which secured his enormous popularity in the antebellum period, were called into question with the advent of realist antisentimentalism, and the poet's work suffered permanent devaluation under the canons of the modernist taste.
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