Date of Award

Fall 12-21-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Max Cavitch

Second Advisor

Amy Kaplan

Third Advisor

David Kazanjian

Abstract

“American Paratexts” argues that prefaces, dedications, footnotes, and postscripts were sites of aggressive courtship and manipulation of readers in early nineteenth-century American literature. In the paratexts of novels, poems, and periodicals, readers faced pedantic complaints about the literary marketplace, entreaties for purchases described as patriotic duty, and interpersonal spats couched in the language of selfless literary nationalism. Authors such as Washington Irving, John Neal, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and William Wells Brown turned paratexts into sites of instructional meta-commentary, using imperative and abusive reader-address to unsettle and then reorient American readers, simultaneously insulting them for insufficiently adventuresome reading habits and declaring better reading and readers essential to America’s status in a transatlantic book sphere. That focus on addressivity transformed the tone and content of the early republic’s prose, bringing the viciousness of eighteenth-century coterie publishing into the emerging mass market world of nineteenth-century monthly and weekly periodicals. Incorporating and expanding beyond Gérard Genette’s definition of the paratext, this dissertation combines the detailed bibliographical work of book historians and material text scholars with the insights of those studying the development of American authorship. Paratexts have too often been ignored as marginal or ancillary: this dissertation notes that it is in paratexts that authors in the early United States tackled subjects as varied as poetic meter, historiographical bias, national literary responsibility and the racial prejudice of white publishing norms. In their aggressive engagement of readers, these paratexts demanded a level of reader metacognition that facilitated the transformation of nineteenth-century transatlantic print culture.

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