Enchanted Geographies of the New Republic, 1789 - 1846
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Rhetorical depictions of otherworldliness abound in antebellum American literature. Such images and tropes of otherworldly enchantment have recently been studied by scholars of nineteenth-century America in an effort to reorient our understanding of how American literary history is organized and how the governing organizational patterns of the field necessarily determine the connections and meanings we are able to make from literary analysis. A theorizing of enchantment as a hermeneutic instrument has led to a small but growing influential shift in attention to non-periodized historiography and the heretofore neglected potential of acausal connections amongst historical events. Essentially, enchantment has recently emerged as an instrument of historiography to search coincidence, happenstance, assemblages, and other non-cause-and-effect temporal phenomena for meaning. This project engages with this current investigation of enchantment’s prospects as a useful concept for American literary studies by making a simple addition, one that has yet to be fully explored: that if enchantment expands our understanding of temporality in literature and literary history -- how texts and readers interact in the past and present -- then it must also augment our notions of space as well. This project analyzes various geographic locales depicted by four influential antebellum writers as having preternatural qualities: Olaudah Equiano, Washington Irving, Margaret Fuller, and Herman Melville. My analysis looks at both the rhetorical use of enchanted aesthetics as well as the contextual effects that this aesthetics generates in the New Republic. The New Republic had a number of social, political, and ethical problems to deal with. The rendering of certain geographies in America’s early literature as enchanted turns out to be a method of wayfinding those contemporary sociopolitical problems -- a kind of three-dimensional cartography to navigate major issues. Just as linear historiography can be rate-limiting in its hermeneutic potential so also the empirically derived geography of nineteenth-century Enlightenment, and this project analyzes how certain antebellum writers explored the enchanted realities of geographic places to effect shifts in the discourses surrounding major sociopolitical problems.