Authority, Autonomy, and Representation in American Literature, 1776-1865

Authority, Autonomy, and Representation in American Literature, 1776-1865

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 280
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    Authority, Autonomy, and Representation in American Literature, 1776-1865
    Book Description:

    From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, a familiar scene appears and reappears in American literature: a speaker stands before a crowd of men and women, attempting to mitigate their natural suspicions in order to form a body of federated wills. In this important study of the relationship of literature and politics, Mark Patterson argues that this scene restates political issues in literary terms and embodies the essential problems of American democracy facing both politicians and writers: What is autonomy? How does representation work? Where does true authority lie? Beginning with the debate over ratification of the United States Constitution, Patterson follows out the complex literary consequences of these questions.

    A work of literary history and criticism, this study also offers valuable insights into matters of political and literary theory. In separate chapters on Benjamin Frankin, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, and Charles Brockden Brown in the post-Revolutionary period and on Fenimore Cooper, Emerson, and Melville in the antebellum period, Patterson provides a series of brilliant readings of major texts in order to describe how American writers have conflated political and literary concerns as a means to their own social authority.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5962-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    There is a representative scene in American literature recurring throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this scene, a speaker stands before a crowd of men and women, attempting to mitigate their natural suspicions in order to form a body of federated wills. Captain Farrago standing before the angry settlers inModern Chivalry, Hugh Littlepage confronting the “Injins” inThe Redskins, Ahab mesmerizing his crew aboard thePequod, even Twain’s Colonel Sherburn facing down the mob in Bricksville replay this quintessentially American drama of democracy and persuasion. Staged as a political drama, as would-be leaders seek to gain authority while...

    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  6. PART ONE. The Post-Revolutionary Period
    • CHAPTER ONE Benjamin Franklin and the Authority of Imitation
      (pp. 3-33)

      When Benjamin Franklin began Part Three of hisAutobiographyin August of 1788, he was, for the first time, writing from his own home. Whereas the earlier sections had been composed in England (in 1771) and France (in 1784), he now wrote in his own library on Market Street. But home meant not only the city of Philadelphia or America, which, after all, has always been more a conceptual space than an actual geographical location; home in late summer of 1788 also included the recently constituted and ratified United States of America. In fact, as Franklin looked back over his...

    • CHAPTER TWO Hugh Henry Brackenridge and Representation
      (pp. 34-60)

      In the spring of 1781, Benjamin Franklin was minister to France and soon to act as commissioner to negotiate a peace settlement with England. On 12 March of this year, Franklin asked Congress to relieve him as minister, citing poor health: “I have been engag’d in publick Affairs, and enjoy’d public Confidence in some Shape or other, during the long term of fifty Years, an honour sufficient to satisfy any reasonable Ambition” (bf, 318). That same spring another Philadelphian, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, migrated from the most sophisticated city in America to the small frontier town of Pittsburgh. After having attempted...

    • CHAPTER THREE Charles Brockden Brown, Authority, and Intentionality
      (pp. 61-78)

      The late eighteenth century in America was a frightened age. The social aftershocks of the Revolution continued to shake the United States’ political structure as the country neared what appeared to be the apocalyptic end of the eighteenth century. In the 1780s and 1790s, America found itself tested by the internal conflicts as the two parties, the weakening Federalist party and the ever-more-powerful Republicans (the opposition party arising from Antifederalist sentiment), fought for control. Aggravating these internecine battles were fears of an international conspiracy stemming from the French Revolution.¹ The projected fears eventually gave rise to the Alien and Sedition...

  7. PART TWO. The Antebellum Period
    • CHAPTER FOUR Myth from the Perspective of History: James Fenimore Cooper and Paternal Authorities
      (pp. 81-136)

      In 1787, six years after Brackenridge had moved west to establish a name for himself on the frontier, William Cooper laid out plans for the wilderness town that was to bear his name, Cooperstown, New York. A strong Hamiltonian Federalist, William Cooper quickly saw the economic advantages of order and unity; he settled the region, like his counterpart in Pittsburgh, by betting his personal fortunes on the Constitution’s success. When he was appointed first judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Otsego County in 1791, William Cooper soon added legal authority to his social power. In such an energetic...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Ralph Waldo Emerson and the American Representative
      (pp. 137-188)

      No American writer seems farther from James Fenimore Cooper’s conservative social vision than Ralph Waldo Emerson. If Cooper was the defender of social distinction and filial piety, Emerson has long been labeled a social radical and the decrier of pious retrospection. At the very moment Cooper was fighting to regain his father’s property at Cooperstown, Emerson was complaining of an age that “builds the sepulchres of the fathers.” Emerson, scholars repeat, is the poet, the preacher of inner divinity, the believer in self-reliance, universal principles, absolute freedom; Cooper remains the novelist, the rational critic of democracy’s excesses, the son of...

    • CHAPTER SIX Herman Melville: The Authority of Confidence
      (pp. 189-239)

      It is perhaps only a literary critic’s wishful thinking that Herman Melville’s transcendentalist confidence-man, Mark Winsome, resembles a portrait of Emerson. Yet Melville’s character fromThe Confidence-Manpoints out how easily the Emersonian rhetoric of power and self-reliance, a rhetoric that empties itself of practical meanings and references, could be taken up by the industrialists to justify their materialism.¹ Or we may want to see Ahab, glorying in his “inexorable self,” as another parodic echo of Emersonian idealism as he exclaims, “What things real are there but imponderable thoughts.”² My point is not that there is some recoverable line of...

    (pp. 240-244)

    Coming at the brink of the Civil War,The Confidence-Manproved to be Melville’s most desperate attempt to lay bare the radical lack of trust propelling America into the abyss. This work’s obscurity provides a measure of his determination to ignore the demands of critics and audience in order to attack the self-destructive impulses of American society. Like Cooper, he faced the complete loss of his dwindling audience as reward for his persistence. Melville’s career recapitulates the dilemma of American writers: Attempting to gain a readership and establish authority, they inevitably ran counter to the demands of society. Some writers,...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 245-249)