America's imagined revolution: narrative and politics in the historical novel of Reconstruction

Hughes, T. (2019) America's imagined revolution: narrative and politics in the historical novel of Reconstruction. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis explores late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novels about Reconstruction in the American South, identifying a sub-genre of the historical novel

dedicated to narrating Reconstruction as revolutionary history. Operating at the margins of political and historical fiction, the writers studied excavate generic and temporal registers in the historical novel that enable them imagine revolution in ways that eschew a narrative of

transition designed to describe the bourgeois-democratic nation-state to the exclusion of plantation societies.

The Introduction examines the ways in which Reconstruction and its literature seem to negate critical languages and narrative models for discussing revolution. In response, it lays out the formal parameters of the historical novel of Reconstruction, focusing on an anachronistic treatment of historical time which acts as a rubric for imagining

revolutionary dynamics specific to plantation society. Each chapter pairs the political and literary lenses through which writers view Reconstruction as revolution. In Chapter One, George Washington Cable’s allegorical form is explored alongside his account of a shifting public/private divide in the South. Chapter Two analyses Albion Tourgée’s ambivalence towards the revolutionary state through his ironic account of sincerity as a means of

describing social custom. Chapter Three reads Charles Chesnutt and Frances Harper’s adoption of the passing genre as expressive of the temporality of Reconstruction’s

revolutionary event. Chapter Four investigates W.E.B. Du Bois’ long development of a counterfactual narrative of the peasant political subject, from his unpublished first novel

Scorn: a Romance (1905) through Black Reconstruction (1935).

By reading narrative form in relation to political, legal and historiographical accounts of Reconstruction, the thesis argues that these writers do important theoretical work in framing revolution as an afterlife of slavery. In part through a reading of Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901), the Conclusion elaborates on the aporetic nature of this theoretical work and its relationship to the kinds of revolutionary dynamic plotted through the thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hutchison, Anthony
Monteith, Sharon
Keywords: Reconstruction, Slavery, American literature, Revolution, Historical novel
Subjects: P Language and literature > PS American literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
Item ID: 59485
Depositing User: Hughes, Tomos
Date Deposited: 25 Mar 2020 11:05
Last Modified: 06 May 2020 09:32

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