The shadow and the veil: Imagining the self in nineteenth-century American literature
Kelly, Sean James
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In my dissertation, "The Shadow and the Veil: Imagining the Self in Nineteenth-Century American Literature," I examine how nineteenth-century ideas of sympathy inform the constructions of masculine selfhood in the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe. I argue that while nineteenth-century popular American literature often uses theories of sympathy to formulate a model of public selfhood based on the notion that affective bonds can mitigate social and political differences, the so-called "American Renaissance" writers invoke the concept of sympathy in order to interrogate the problem of the solitary self at the limits of the social. By emphasizing the threatening aspects of affect inherent to sympathy, these writers suggest that not only is the masculine self of nineteenth-century America a fundamentally private form of selfhood, but that it is also a self in the midst of an ontological crisis.