Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Heather Love

Abstract

This dissertation argues that disability in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America was understood as both a textual and bodily phenomenon. From Civil War injuries and industrial accidents to anti-black violence, the U.S. confronted an unprecedented number of disabled bodies and minds as the nineteenth century came to a close. This rise in disabled populations accompanied a growth in print culture. Turn-of-the-century authors—including Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Gertrude Stein—were forced to consider how best to convey disability on the page. My project explores how bodily and mental impairments—from war wounds and eyestrain to word-blindness (the late nineteenth-century term for dyslexia), old age, melancholy, and “stupidity”—transformed everyday practices of reading and writing. Scholarship about disability in literary studies has attended mainly to depictions of disabled characters in novels and autobiographies. By contrast, “American Imprints” argues that acknowledging the text as a made object brings into focus how turn-of-the-century authors grapple with disability at the level of textual form. Engaging with work by Michael Moon, which considers how sexuality influences a text’s composition, and with Michael Davidson’s scholarship on an embodied “disability poetics,” my project explores how the author’s body, a text’s content, and the materiality of the text itself interact to rearticulate disability via a range of textual features—including handwriting, the use of typewriters, paper folds, envelope seals, word counts, and blank space. Looking to the material text—that is, framing the text as object and considering the conditions in which it was written—shows how disability influences the formal modes of literary production. Revealing how bodies imprint texts and texts imprint bodies, my project brings material text studies into contact with histories of bodily exclusion to reveal a specifically literary genealogy of impairment.

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