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Title: The pursuit of character : legibility and masculinity in U.S. literary culture
Author: Salway, Matthew Charles
ISNI:       0000 0004 6062 2362
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2016
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This dissertation reads ‘character’ as a formative concept in U.S. literature and culture. The word speaks to the creation of myth, to the impact of dominant cultural narratives upon individual identity, and to the construction of untruths for the purpose of communicating truth. In the nineteenth-century United States, I argue, character was perceived as a defining aspect of personhood, and gave shape to culturally specific understandings of citizenship and national identity. My primary focus is on how competing genealogies of character intersected in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century U.S. literature, where the term held multiple meanings: a political expectation of citizenship and of the nation state; a marker of social, economic and moral eligibility; and an outward display of spiritual salvation inherited from Calvinist theology. In each chapter, I locate my central ideas within a complex nexus of literary admiration, imitation and suggestion, through which character comes into view as a vital and effective form of cultural interchange. Yet, equally, I suggest that certain writers articulated anxieties about judging individuals on a narrow understanding of what it meant to be socially legible. My aim is to chart the influence of character through the forms of resistance that emerged against it. I demonstrate how, for Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harold Frederic, Henry James and Sinclair Lewis, representing Americans in fiction meant acknowledging that character was not so much an immutable fact of selfhood as a culturally produced identity constituted by public approval.
Supervisor: Bennett, Bridget Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available