This study explores the colonial-based historical fiction of Melville (Israel Potter), Sedgwick (Hope Leslie), and Hawthorne (The House of the Seven Gables), and uses references to American textiles and apparel to analyze what John McWilliams calls "the problem of cultural memory" presented in the literature. The project, therefore, establishes clothing as an authentic repository of cultural history and demonstrates "textile analysis" -- the methodology I employ for reading representations of textiles as historical text -- as a productive mode of inquiry and a valuable pedagogical approach.
Nineteenth-century American authors sought to fashion a useable past out of the history of British North America but often found the remnants of colonial dependency ill-suited to the independent frame of the United States. Although the nation longed to speed away from "colony" and toward "nation," the relative infancy of the United States forced authors to search for a myth of origin that would both predict the Revolution and present an established member of the family of nations. Sometimes with reverence but often with contempt, American authors ascended into the not-so dusty attic of colonial history to seek and to re-fashion truly American, while not always true, American stories. The fictional revisions woven from remnants of colonial dependency and newly-fashioned sovereign ideals altered American history through imaginative historical representation and, in so doing, effectively revolutionized cultural memory to fit a maturing nation. While the design of these fictional revisions depended on historical material, the physical material of colonial textiles and apparel provided the necessary shuttle between the mythic and the historical, the imaginary and the "real."
Weaving material relics with archival material effectively transforms fiction into history. References to apparel disguise literary invention as believable fact and establish an authentic conduit to historical memory, albeit mitigated by the nineteenth-century author. In antebellum fiction the entwining of history with homespun and other fabrics resurrects a proto-Revolutionary colonial history even as it exposes the complicated inheritance of "tenth-generation" Americans. In this fashion, and in a major variation to David Levin's terminology, the nineteenth-century Romantic artist becomes its historian.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertaion. February 2012. Major: English. Advisor: Dr. Edward M. Griffin. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 227 pages.
Roth-Reinhardt, Anne Elizabeth.
Frayed Homespun: colonial clothing and literary revision in Melville, Sedgwick, and Hawthorne..
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