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Common Things

Romance and the Aesthetics of Belonging in Atlantic Modernity

James D. Lilley

Publication Year: 2013

What are the relationships between the books we read and the communities we share? Common Things explores how transatlantic romance revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth century influenced--and were influenced by--emerging modern systems of community. Drawing on the work of Washington Irving, Henry Mackenzie, Thomas Jefferson, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Montgomery Bird, and Charles Brockden Brown, the book shows how romance promotes a distinctive aesthetics of belonging--a mode of being in common tied to new qualities of the singular. Each chapter focuses on one of these common things--the stain of race, the "property" of personhood, ruined feelings, the genre of a text, and the event of history--and examines how these peculiar qualities work to sustain the coherence of our modern common places. In the work of Horace Walpole and Edgar Allan Poe, the book further uncovers an important--and never more timely--alternative aesthetic practice that reimagines community as an open and fugitive process rather than as a collection of common things.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Series: Commonalities

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. 1-14

In a powerful series of paintings composed between 2005 and 2008, the French artist Armelle Caron creates a set of decontextualized images of the modern cityscape (figure 1). On the left side of each image, the artist presents a familiar, monochromatic map of a major city—New York, Montpellier, or Paris, for example—while on the right side she identifies...

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1. Genre

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pp. 15-49

With the addition of one word to the second edition of The Castle of Otranto (1765), Horace Walpole performed the perfect generic gesture. Whereas the first edition of his bizarre tale of incest, patriarchal violence, and talking paintings is subtitled simply “A Story,” with the second edition, published only months after the scandalous original, Walpole made an addition...

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2. Feeling

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pp. 50-74

In one of the nineteenth century’s most influential romances, we are introduced to a restless young man who abandons his sleepy hometown, eager to try his fortunes in the big city. He meets a girl. Though separated by massive disparities in wealth, education, and social stature, they nevertheless cast “wooing glances” at each other and begin a...

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3. Property/Personhood

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pp. 75-119

When Arthur Mervyn, the eponymous hero of Charles Brockden Brown’s 1798 romance, begins to hear reports of a yellow-fever epidemic taking root in nearby Philadelphia, he immediately filters the gruesome details through an aesthetics of the sublime. These reports, he later reflects, were...

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pp. 120-167

In the previous chapter, we saw how modern forms of property and personhood invoke Gothic conjurations of the flesh, metempsychotic wanderings of the spirit, and mesmeric pathways of pestilence and infection. Although frequently employed by discourses of democracy and abolition, I argued that these peculiar common things are already deeply implicated in...

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5. No Thing in Common

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pp. 168-208

In stories like “The Man That Was Used Up,” we have seen how Poe exposes the spectral special effects demanded by modern forms of national, racial, and colonial community. Like Sterne, Brockden Brown, and Montgomery Bird before him, Poe shows us how the literature of romance helps to conjure some of the peculiar common things—such as the “air distingué”...


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pp. 209-236


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pp. 237-246

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Further Reading

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pp. 250-256

Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. Translated by Rhiannon Noel Welch. Introduction by Vanessa Lemm.Maurizio Ferraris, Documentality: Why It Is Necessary to Leave Traces. Dimitris Vardoulakis, Sovereignty and Its Other: Toward the Dejustification Anne Emmanuelle Berger, The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780823255184
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823255153
Print-ISBN-10: 0823255158

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 8 b/w
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth
Series Title: Commonalities
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OCLC Number: 867740049
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Common Things