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American Souths: Reading Social Markers through the Landscape


This dissertation, American Souths: Reading Social Markers through the Landscape, highlights the unconventional contributions of nineteenth-century novels under the umbrella set of “American literature.” This project unsettles and realigns some of the most enduring literary historical categories—realism and naturalism, regionalism, local color, and dialect literature—by thinking of the novels organized within these categories through their representations of landscape. Read as landscape literature and valued for their location in and commitment to the local, this group of novels by Ruiz de Burton, Jackson, and Hopkins as well as Cable, Chopin, Delany and Du Bois, consistently explore multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and global politics. Their many descriptions of interior and exterior spaces narrate social markers like race, gender, and class in surprisingly similar ways. Each writer, while associated with a distinct US region, thus speaks from a similar perspective, producing critical openings to engage in comparative global conversations that unsettle American exceptionalism and the so-called stability of the nation-state. My project reorients not only spatial categories but also the temporal divisions underlying periodization, thinking outside the nineteenth-century paradigm to gesture back toward pre-California and the hemispheric South. By emphasizing how the colonial residues of the Spanish, French, and Mexican empires persist in the nineteenth century, the project foregrounds American literatures in languages other than English and thus contributes to comparative, transnational approaches to American literature.

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