Title page for ETD etd-04112005-150114

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Helton, Tena Lea
URN etd-04112005-150114
Title The Literary Frontier: Creating an American Nation (1820-1840)
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Edward White Committee Chair
Jerry Kennedy Committee Member
Katrina Powell Committee Member
Michelle Masse Committee Member
Heather McKillop Dean's Representative
  • nationalism
  • genre criticism
  • nineteenth-century
  • jackson
  • child
  • stephens
  • sedgwick
  • cooper
  • seaver
  • jemison
  • thoreau
  • whitman
  • kirkland
  • poe
  • american literature
  • antebellum
Date of Defense 2005-03-04
Availability unrestricted
From the perspective of the twenty-first century, it might be easy to dismiss frontier literature as a minor historical anomaly, as a descriptor limited to setting, or as an insignificant variation from a country struggling to reach the heights of British fictional “norms.” However, when American literature began to flourish in the 1820s, it was primarily a literature of the frontier. Examining what this frontier quality means for literary elements beyond setting, such as narrative voice, textual structure, and genre, more clearly explains the importance of the frontier to literary nation-building. After all, the literary frontier ranged across literary genres, inviting new combinations and formal innovations that mark some of the most underappreciated and fascinating examples of American writing. James Seaver’s A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, for example, carried on the autobiographical captivity narrative tradition by combining the personal narrative with local history, ethnography, and revolutionary legend: a perfect example of the “literary frontier.”

This dissertation examines the centrality of “frontier literature” during the Jacksonian period and its impulse to ethnographic description of nation. Thus, I consider a range of texts published between 1820 and 1840. Chapter one explains my theoretical bases and includes a brief reading of John Heckewelder’s ethnography of the Delaware Indians. Chapter two focuses upon Seaver’s narrative. Chapter three considers the paratextual elements of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok, and Ann Sophia Stephens’ Malaeska, The Indian Wife of a White Hunter. Chapter four analyzes the structural and satirical elements of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Journal of Julius Rodman and Caroline Kirkland’s A New Home—Who’ll Follow? The concluding chapter reflects upon Walt Whitman’s poetry and Henry David Thoreau’s Walking.

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