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This chapter examines how American literature has engaged with business corporations in general, and the legal fiction of corporate personhood in particular. There are few major novels about business corporations, because literary fiction has tended to concentrate on the moral dilemmas and social entanglements of individuals, rather than the more impersonal realm of economic activity. Yet the changing legal nature and increasing importance of corporations has forced some writers to rethink what it means to be human, creatively rethinking the relationship between individual and collective agency. The chapter considers three phases in the literary representation of corporations: as monster, as system, and as story. It uses as examples James Fenimore Cooper’s The Bravo (1831), Frank Norris’s The Octopus (1901), Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955), Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961), Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), Richard Powers’s Gain (1998), and Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End (2007).
The “occult world,” or occulture, is a term that has developed a very wide meaning in modern academic discourse. The full panoply of occult thinking is enormous. While always mindful of the broader definition of the subject, this essay is largely limited to what the author believes would be an acceptable vernacular definition of the occult as essentially referring to black magic, and most especially to the satanic. This has been a subject with enormous resonance for American history and culture. The argument in this chapter is that Satan has played, and continues to play, a central – and on occasion a decisive – role in American cultural and political life. He is a figure deeply in the American grain, a vivid and personal presence in the lives of many millions of Americans, given powerful and recurring embodiment in American popular culture, in particular. But he is also a presence centrally informing some of the classic works of American literature.
Opening up the warm body of American Horror – through literature, film, TV, music, video games, and a host of other mediums – this book gathers the leading scholars in the field to dissect the gruesome histories and shocking forms of American life. Through a series of accessible and informed essays, moving from the seventeenth century to the present day, The Cambridge Companion to American Horror explores one of the liveliest and most progressive areas of contemporary culture. From slavery to censorship, from occult forces to monstrous beings, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in America's most terrifying cultural expressions.
This essay examines the importance of unoriginality in nineteenth-century American literature, showing how imitation and conventionality affirmed writers’ respectability and provided important legitimizing credentials. By way of illustration, this essay considers the career of Washington Irving, who presented himself as a guardian of literary tradition and repeatedly narrated the virtues of allowing the past to shape the future. As Irving’s career evidences, nineteenth-century readers did not particularly prize originality but instead found value in the familiar and conventional.
This essay situates the rise of US empire in the nineteenth century within a longer, transnational, and transoceanic colonial project that has been continuously catastrophic – from the arrival of Columbus to the threats of climate change and nuclear disaster – for both Indigenous societies and nonhuman ecosystems. The essay shows how such ecological and geopolitical disruptions were central to both US nation-building and the development of an American national literature, while at the same time highlighting the causal relation and essential continuity between the extractive enterprises and imperial expansionism of the early United States and the planetary crises of the twenty-first century.
The antebellum era saw an epochal shift in politics: nature transformed into a key site of the political. No longer seen as a refuge from human concerns, biological existence itself became a key new resource for conceptualizing human difference and an administrative target of political power. This essay reveals sentimental literature to march in step with this shift. This mode overwhelmingly associated with the domestic realm and even the trite and saccharine nonetheless reveals an emergent biopolitics attuned to disciplining the individual’s nature and conceiving of humanity as a population whose biological quality could be optimized. An ideology that sutured literature and science together in an era in which divisions between them were just beginning to form, sentimentalism helped move politics into the flesh.
This essay offers an overview of major themes, texts, and critical approaches to early African American print culture. It traces movements in early nineteenth-century African American print culture from the founding of Freedom’s Journal and publication of David Walker’s Appeal through the proliferation of pseudonymous writing in Frederick Douglass’s Paper and the work of the colored conventions movement. In addition, this essay examines the ethics animating the field itself with special attention to new digital humanities projects.
This essay offers a brief overview of the sentimental novel in the United States, with a focus on its role in the abolitionist movement. While delineating its conventions, the essay also challenges the conventional view of enslaved and free blacks presented by sentimentality.
This essay places the life and writings of Catharine Maria Sedgwick beside those of her contemporary, the Pequot preacher and author William Apess. Sedgwick’s novel Hope Leslie, or Early Times in the Massachusetts and many of her other writings reinforced the myth of the “vanishing Indian,” and yet native communities persisted in New England in Sedgwick’s own time. By reading Sedgwick and Apess alongside one another, this essay explores white historical fiction’s role in perpetuating settler colonial ideology and highlights Apess’s strategies of rhetorical and literary resistance. In his autobiography, his collection of native conversion narratives, his published sermons, and his political writings, Apess consistently recognized, embraced, and proclaimed not only his own worth as a native man but the survival and sovereignty of native New England communities both past and present.
This essay charts the rise of serial fiction from sensational to sentimental series. Many of these texts were written by authors who were once well known but who are now largely forgotten. Or scholars may be familiar with one or two titles from these writers’ whole corpus, as may be the case for E. D. E. N. Southworth’s fifty-two novels. Publishers such as Peterson’s and Street & Smith profited from these novels, as did the authors who engaged their readers with popular, if sometimes convoluted, plots. Drawing these readers to serials was the reliability of their narrative repetitions and excitement of their psychological dramas over how to deal with transitions in US culture.
This essay examines the literary emergence radical abolitionism in the context of the national, hemispheric, and transatlantic circulation of print. It begins with an overview of the present state of literary scholarship on abolitionist writing and then goes on to analyze several interrelated historical-textual events occurring around 1830. They include the publication of David Walker’s Appeal, William Lloyd Garrison’s emergence as an abolitionist editor and spokesperson, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, and the Jamaican uprising of 1831–32.
This essay examines how the antebellum economy was depicted in American literature from about 1820 to 1860. The first section borrows from the “New Economic Criticism” to provide an overview of the way American writers tended to represent the emergence of a new form of economic selfhood in America, one based both on credit and speculation and on market notions of “success” and “failure.” The second section takes its cue from recent scholarship in “Transnational American Studies” to suggest a possible future for economic criticism, one that attends to the way American literary selfhood was imagined during this period in relation to global networks of trade and exchange.
This essay walks us through the methodological questions provoked by the popularity of poetry in the antebellum period. It urges scholars to focus less on authorial innovation and critical reception and more on readers and reading, where we find an absolute saturation of poetic enthusiasm and the traces of a transatlantic and commonplace poetic language that has been obscured by the predominance of prose in scholarship on antebellum literature.
The introduction to the volume canvasses the history of studies of American literature between 1820 and 1860 and makes a case for a singular endurance: that it is a literature dedicated to democracy. The introduction also frames the volume’s contribution as pointing to new directions in the field and summarizes the essays.
This essay probes secularism’s normative sociality and its cracks or fault lines, the everyday ways of being that defy its logics. In the early to mid-nineteenth century, white Protestantism became infused into the US public – not as a religion, per se, but as a set of deeply felt social formations, moral norms, and practices of the self. While a secularized Protestantism made the world feel right for some, though, it created exclusions that made it feel wrong for others – made others feel, in fact, like they were wrong in it. This essay attends to secularism’s fissures as a means of confronting nineteenth-century Black and indigenous people’s experiences of the everyday world, carved out of landscapes rife with racial and religious prejudices and violence.
This essay reads Lydia Maria Child and Henry David Thoreau against the grain of the usual literary taxonomies in order to consider the degree to which two key preoccupations animated their respective work: first, What constitutes a good life and how might people of limited or moderate means achieve it within a volatile and unforgiving US economy? And, second, How might individuals conceive of and act on their responsibilities to suffering others, especially enslaved Americans, and what should one’s disposition be toward injustice more generally? With attention to their overlapping inquiries into frugality, self-improvement, economic instability, and social injustice, I argue that Child and Thoreau are crucial authors for understanding both the mid-nineteenth and the early twenty-first centuries.
This essay lays out the history of the term “America” as a geographic notation that came to be conflated with the US nation-state, and how, in revealing and exploring that elision, hemispheric studies emerged. The essay then argues for reconfiguration of the field as “trans-American studies,” which would emphasize movement and transition beyond America and across America.
This essay recovers how David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829–30) likely played a significant role in Frederick Douglass’s frustrated introduction to literacy in Baltimore. By recognizing this important but overlooked intersection of two generations of Black antislavery activists at a turning point in the movement, the essay complicates our thinking about both the effects of Walker’s fiery Appeal and Douglass’s relationship to violent self-defense and resistance. More broadly, it examines the frequent linkage of print to violence and the politicization of print as a powerful and contested form of activism in the histories of US antislavery and antiracism.
This chapter outlines how the forced removal and relocation of Indigenous peoples defines much of the period under examination rather than serving as mere footnotes to the era’s other conflicts. The author demonstrates how removal was central to the political landscape of the period leading up to the US Civil War, and as a result, readers can find these resonances in almost any literary work from the period from virtually every region of the continent. Ultimately, this chapter argues that returning to take a close look at Indigenous history and literature in this period illuminates how scholars and students can challenge this logic and appreciate a more complete picture of how removal continues to affect our present.
The decades between 1830 and 1850 in the Northeastern United States gave rise to what historians have called the antebellum print explosion. As sexuality finds its way into print in this period, it is represented and debated simultaneously by and for different people, with different meanings, and under different auspices. Its genres span a number of antebellum audiences, including moral reform directories, “flash press” weeklies, “fancy books,” city mysteries, sentimental novels, slave narratives, medical literature, phrenological writing, and poetry. The work of the present essay is to survey some of these different examples of sexuality in print and show how they nuance our historical understanding of sexuality and its relationship to print in the antebellum period.