Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Jeffory A. Clymer

Abstract

Apparitional Economies is invested in both a historical consideration of economic conditions through the antebellum era and an examination of how spectral representations depict the effects of such conditions on local publics and individual persons. From this perspective, the project demonstrates how extensively the period’s literature is entangled in the economic: in financial devastation, in the boundaries of seemingly limitless progress, and in the standards of value that order the worth of commodities and the persons who can trade for them.

I argue that the space of the specter is a force of representation, an invisible site in which the uncertainties of antebellum economic and social change become visible. I read this spectral space in canonical works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman and in emerging texts by Robert Montgomery Bird, Theophilus Fisk, Fitz James O’Brien, and Edward Williams Clay.

Methodologically, Apparitional Economies moves through historical events and textual representation in two ways: chronologically with an attention to archival materials through the antebellum era (beginning with the specters that emerge with the Panic of 1837) and interpretively across the readings of a literary specter (as a space of lack and potential, as exchange, as transformation, and as the presence of absence). As a failed body and, therefore, a flawed embodiment of economic existence, the literary specter proves a powerful representation of antebellum social and financial uncertainties.

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