Benjamin Franklin, the Ends of Writing, and the Founding of American Literature
Wood, John J.
MetadataShow full item record
“Benjamin Franklin, the Ends of Writing, and the Founding of American Literature” examines key texts of the most important American writer of the eighteenth century in order to clarify his purposes as a writer and his multifarious influences on the literary culture and institutions of colonial America as a journalist, essayist, printer and publisher, librarian and bookman, scientist, philosopher and projector, and founder of public institutions. The dissertation argues that Franklin’s status as a founder of American literature critically depends on an assessment of the full range of his writings, most of which have no ostensible literary intention. Viewed in part through the lens of his unfinished Autobiography, his universally recognized contribution to the American literary canon, the “ends” of Franklin’s writing are explored beginning with his early writings for the press, including his reflections on “literary style” and the importance of writing being both useful and entertaining. Franklin’s ephemeral and typically brief writings, including many occasional pieces published in the press or in pamphlet form to suit the needs of the moment, substantiated his reputation as America’s leading man of letters long before he penned his memoirs. His significance and influence as a writer can only be fully appreciated through analysis of his preferred genre—the occasional essay—exemplified in the works considered here, and the variety of subjects, rhetorical strategies, and voices he employed to achieve his ends. Of particular interest is the way Franklin used writing to win support for his projects, and the way he revisited and revised—also through writing—his past projects. Franklin’s effort to “correct” the past, particularly through his memoirs, is an ongoing focus of the dissertation.