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Broken heads and bloated tales: Quixotic fictions of the USA, 1792-1815

Wood, Sarah Florence; (2003) Broken heads and bloated tales: Quixotic fictions of the USA, 1792-1815. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Reading a number of post-Revolutionary works alongside a range of social, political, and cultural phenomena (such as Barbary conflicts, the Alien and Sedition Acts, yellow fever epidemics, and the cult of George Washington), this thesis contends that fiction of the early republic repeatedly deployed the contradictory figure of the quixote in order to test the conflicting ideals of the founders, to interrogate the political instabilities and social upheavals of the new republic, and to question both the possibility and the desirability of an isolationist United States and an independent 'American' literature. Chapter 1 discusses changing perceptions of Don Quixote in eighteenth-century British literature, charting his assimilation into British culture and his transformation from deluded fool to romantic hero: it was this complex figure, as much as his Spanish original, who crossed the Atlantic in the influx of British literary imports into America both before and after independence. Chapter 2 presents a survey of quixotic figures from colonial and Revolutionary America, before suggesting some reasons why 'misreadable' quixotes might have proved particularly compelling for writers of the early republic. Chapters 3 to 7 discuss works by Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown, Tabitha Gilman Tenney and Washington Irving. In Modern Chivalry (1792-1815), Brackenridge shows readers how the discourses of republicanism and quixotism could be co-opted to resist change and naturalise existing power relations. Brown's Arthur Mervyn (1799-1800) recounts the rise and fall of a republican quixote, engaged in extending the limits of public service at the very moment in American history when the idea of 'virtue' was retreating to the private sphere. Royall Tyler's The Algerine Captive (1797) tells the story of a literary quixote whose narrative reveals a subtle indictment of the US republic and an untimely attachment to North African ways. Tenney's Female Quixotism (1801) exploits the interpretative instability of the quixotic figure to produce a double-talking text, a romantic satire that ridicules the self-deluded spinster while critiquing the period's self-sacrificing ideals of republican wife and mother. Irving's A History of New York (1809) burlesques the idealising tendencies of American historiography, introducing a surplus of quixotic patriarchs in order to challenge the continuing presence of the founding fathers and confront the difficulties faced by the early republic's post-heroic generation.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Broken heads and bloated tales: Quixotic fictions of the USA, 1792-1815
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10097496
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