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Gothic Subjects

The Transformation of Individualism in American Fiction, 1790-1861

By Sian Silyn Roberts

Publication Year: 2014

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Introduction: The Gothic Enlightenment

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pp. 1-27

In the introduction to An Inquiry into the Human Mind (1762), noted Scottish Common Sense philosopher Thomas Reid unleashes an animated assault on his intellectual predecessor, David Hume. Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), he says, is an “abyss of skepticism,” a “ridiculous” work of “philosophical subtlety” that, like the...

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1. The American Transformation of the British Individual

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pp. 28-58

Beginning in the 1790s, North American readers evidently developed an appetite for British and Europe an romances alongside the homegrown publications of Charles Brockden Brown, Isaac Mitchell, and Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood. Although Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland; Or, The Transformation (published in September 1798) is widely regarded as the first “American” gothic...

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2. Captivity, Incorporation, and the Politics of Going Native

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pp. 59-85

It is a generally accepted premise among scholars of the early American novel that the sentimental novel authorizes and naturalizes the bourgeois subject and the contractual state at the level of the family.1 The marriage contract operates in a manner analogous to the social contract: two differentiated but compatible parties of equal merit—Myra and Worthy in...

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3. A Mind for the Gothic: Common Sense and the Problem of Local Culture

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pp. 86-114

Perhaps the most striking feature of Washington Irving’s iconic mock-horror tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is not the headless specter of Revolutionary violence that haunts the Catskill’s byways but the rigorously defensive manner in which this drowsy little town wards off any potential threat to its autonomy. On guard against forces that threaten to disrupt its vital local...

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4. Population and the Limits of Civil Society in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

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pp. 115-139

In the preceding chapter, I suggested that Jacksonian-era gothic fiction addresses the problems posed by common sense for a nation made from closed and isolated cultural groups. In doing so, I charted a shift in the cultural logic of the gothic from the early republic to the early decades of the nineteenth century. What began as a form that allowed early U.S. writers such as Brown...

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5. Slavery and Gothic Form: Writing Race as the Bio-Novel

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pp. 140-164

For over half a century, literary criticism has taken for granted the idea that race and slavery are central to the American gothic tradition.1 The reasoning generally goes like this: the gothic trades in the abuse of humans, and so does slavery, making the former uniquely suited to tell the story of the latter. From this, it usually follows that the historical experience of slavery is a kind of...

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pp. 165-172

Through the narrative extravagances of plague, ventriloquism, metempsychosis, live burial, imprisonment, the return of the dead, and a host of other gothic signatures, early American novels imagine and engage the complex political relations of the post- Revolutionary Atlantic world. These works were all too aware that any number of marginalized people were denied the transformative...


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pp. 173-210


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pp. 211-230


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pp. 231-236

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pp. 237-240

This book is about the transformation of individualism in American literary culture, so it is entirely fitting that writing it exposed the fiction of my own autonomy. If I prove cynical about the notion of an autonomous subject in these pages, it is only because I have been everywhere transformed and sustained by a wonderful network of friends, colleagues, and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209839
E-ISBN-10: 0812209834
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812246131

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Enlightenment -- Influence.
  • Individualism in literature.
  • American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Gothic fiction (Literary genre), American -- History and criticism.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
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