Bodies of Reform
The Rhetoric of Character in Gilded Age America
Publication Year: 2010
“James Salazar takes the term ‘character’—pervasive and elusive—and accounts for its centrality by showing how it embodies the contradictions of modern America. In a series of intricate literary readings, he analyzes the ways in which the late-nineteenth-century obsession with building ‘character’ vivified social distinctions but also, in its instabilities, became the pivot for critique.”
Published by: NYU Press
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Character has proven to be a strangely cumbersome, yet also intangible, topic of study. Pivotal in so many diverse texts and discourses of the nineteenth century and yet the express subject of so few, character seemed to be both everywhere and nowhere, easy to see yet difficult to understand. Fortunately, I have had the guidance and inspiration of many ...
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Bodies of Reform studies what was perhaps the most coveted object of nineteenth-century American culture, that curiously formable yet often equally formidable stuff called character. So much more than simply the bundle of traits that distinguish and define an individual’s identity, character was to many nineteenth-century Americans, as Orison Swett ...
1. Philanthropic Taste: Race and Character in Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man
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My study begins with Herman Melville’s 1857 novel The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, a text that seems to announce—and perhaps to mourn—the closing of the era of character. Set on the riverboat Fidèle as it travels up the Mississippi River one April Fool’s Day, The Confidence-Man portrays a series of swindles perpetrated by one singular, and quite ...
2. Character Is Capital
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The prominence of the confidence man and his many avatars as an object of concern in the fiction, popular periodicals, and advice literature of the mid-nineteenth century was not simply a reaction to the threat he posed as a new social type but rather expressed the broader ambivalences ...
3. Muscle Memory
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In 1851, Sojourner Truth gave a speech to the Akron Women’s Rights Convention that launched her public career and eventually came to define in many ways her legendary status as feminist icon, staunch abolitionist, and exemplary “self-made” character. The power of the speech, which has come to be known ...
4. “A Story Written on Her Face”: Pauline Hopkins’s Unmaking of the Inherited Character of Race
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In January 1905, the editor of the periodical the Voice of the Negro published a series of short “Messages” intended to give advice to its readers on the important question of “the betterment of the race.”3 The short and prescriptive messages, in their effort to encompass the “republic of ...
5. Character’s Conduct: Spaces of Interethnic Emulation in Jane Addams’s “Charitable Effort”
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In 1928, the organizers of the Chicago Association for Child Study and Parent Education, one of many emerging organizations dedicated to the new science of pedagogy and child rearing, decided to address its annual conference to one of the most important social-reform projects in the nineteenth- and early ...
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About the Author
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James B. Salazar is an assistant professor of English at Temple University, where he teaches courses in nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture. ...
Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010