Reading Subjects: Desire and Discipline in the Early American Novel, 1787-1827.
Abstract: This dissertation seeks to describe the unique pressures brought to
bear on the reading subjects of a government founded in what the Declaration of
Independence calls "the Laws of Nature." It begins by arguing that the early republic's
preoccupation with naturalized government is intimately related to the methods of
privatized discipline the sentimental novel imagines. It ends by arg... read moreuing that early
American romanticism appropriates this correspondence between the moral and the natural
world in order to naturalize imperialist ideologies. Although this dissertation is
fundamentally invested in a Foucauldian understanding of modern power structures that
coerce the liberal subject into privatized forms of self-regulation, it also argues that
the conditions that give rise to a republican fantasy of voluntary obedience are more
messily related to desire than Foucauldian readings of the novel allow: at the heart of a
totalizing system of republican discipline is an anxious dependence on the unruly desires
of individual subjects. Additionally, by locating a strain in early American political
rhetoric and reading practices that works to naturalize culture rather than socialize
desire, this dissertation questions the oppositional relationship between masculine
romanticism and feminine sentimentalism that dominates accounts of nineteenth-century
literary culture. The first chapter reads Benjamin Rush's theories of prison reform
alongside William Hill Brown's novel The Power of Sympathy
(1789); this pairing demonstrates that sympathy's extralegal status only increases its
disciplinary potential. The second chapter argues that Charles Brockden Brown's penultimate
novel Clara Howard (1801) presents a model of republican
virtue in which the rhetoric of civic disinterestedness relies upon the desires of the very
individuals it sought to abstract. The third chapter argues that although James Kirke
Paulding and William and Washington Irving's satirical periodical
Salmagundi (1807) attempts to liberate early national print
culture from the discourse of normalizing reform, its fictitious editors can only do so by
imposing their own normative standards of critique. The final chapter argues that by
undermining its readers' instincts about what is and is not `natural,' Catharine Maria
Sedgwick's novel Hope Leslie (1827) challenges a newly
emerging confidence in fiction's ability to train readers in a nationally-specific code of
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Virginia Jackson.
Committee: Elizabeth Dillon, Radiclani Clytus, and Sonia Hofkosh.
Keywords: Literature, and American literature.read less