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Title:Republican Fictions in Search of an Audience: The Works of Charles Brockden Brown
Author(s):Ericksen, David Elliott
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Baym, Nina
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:Brown's life spanned the decades during which neoclassical notions of authorship gave way to more market-driven conceptions. Accordingly, reading practices were transformed as novels became ever more popular. Directed to an ever-widening and more socially diverse audience of women and men, novels displaced older, elite reading practices made possible by common educations and values of gentleman readers. Elements of both models of writing coexist in Brown's work and create significant dissonances in it. Early reviews of Brown's works, however, reveal that his enduring reputation was and is largely based on the literary standards and political requirements of the periods after his death rather than the unsettled conditions in which the author lived and wrote.
Brown's novels can be seen as a short-lived attempt to forge a republican discourse that would unify the readers of the young republic. Brown hoped he could adapt the qualities that had necessitated and informed elite reader participation in sermons, essays, satires and history to the novel form and thereby instruct the audience that was consuming novels in ever greater quantities. Wieland and Edgar Huntly use the dialogic properties of gothic narratives, as they hesitate between what Todorov has called the "uncanny" and the "marvelous." The resulting uncertainty of judgment foregrounds the process and limitations of reasoning, as when Clara Wieland wavers between rational and supernatural explanations of the disembodied voices she hears. For readers as well, the competing interpretations suggested by the gothic elements integrate the participatory aspects of elite writing and reading into the novel form. Arthur Mervyn and Ormond apply similar techniques to more directly civic projects--presenting protagonists who are apparent models of Republican virtue, and who deliberately blur the boundaries between public virtue and private conspiracy. Brown's last two novels, especially Jane Talbot, take on the external forms and themes of romance novels and novels of seduction, but they also prefigure the plot forms of later fiction written by women. While not commercially successful, Brown's appeal to the popular audience while maintaining conventions of elite literature reveals a fascinating effort of negotiating audiences in a moment of national transformation.
Issue Date:1993
Description:357 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1993.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI9411614
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-16
Date Deposited:1993

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