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“By the people”: representative literature and democratic representation in the United States, 1890-1930

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Title: “By the people”: representative literature and democratic representation in the United States, 1890-1930
Author(s): Simeone, Christopher J.
Director of Research: Nelson, Cary
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Nelson, Cary
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Foote, Stephanie; Maxwell, William; Hansen, Jim
Department / Program: English
Discipline: English
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): American Literature Democracy Representation Hamlin Garland Vachel Lindsay James Weldon Johnson
Abstract: This dissertation examines American literary writing that also asks and answers these questions about the authors of popular government and the means to represent them. I include three case studies from 1890-1930 focused on the work of Hamlin Garland, Vachel Lindsay, and James Weldon Johnson. Each of these writers created specifically literary projects designed to define and represent “the people.” I have chosen these authors because their efforts to represent the sovereign people hinge on the representative claims of the literary forms they employ: Garland’s regionalist writing promised a new understanding of rural subjects and a renovated ideal of literary culture through careful observation and recording; Lindsay’s bardic poetry hoped to discover and then circulate a genuinely popular aesthetic through personal contact with everyday people; Johnson used the representational promises inherent to black autobiography to advance his arguments about African-American citizenship. The form of literature itself plays a crucial role in these writers’ efforts to represent “the people” in the face of growing uncertainty about the form and function of body politic. My account of their attempts at representivity is also an account of their failures, for the kernel of aesthetic and political truth they seek is ultimately fictional. However, in exploring these different literary encounters with the problem of popular sovereignty in U.S. democracy of the modern period, I hope to rethink some of our basic assumptions about representing “the people” both in democracy and in literature.
Issue Date: 2011-08-25
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/26095
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Christopher J. Simeone
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-08-25
Date Deposited: 2011-08
 

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