Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Embalming in memory: Mourning, narrativity, and historiography in the nineteenth-century United States
by Byock, Ashley M., Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2008, 223; 3336546
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation argues that mid-nineteenth-century definitions of personhood, citizenship, and nationality were largely constructed through the tropes and narrative structures of sentimental mourning. This argument is developed through examinations of a wide range of materials, including novels and first-person narratives, newspaper and magazine articles, medical and scientific texts related to embalming, and legal cases that sought to regulate citizenship. Reading across these texts, this dissertation trace the emergence of two literary tropes, the deathbed tableau and the metaphor of the dead beloved "embalmed in memory," in private, public, political, scientific, racial, and gendered discourse. As a study, ultimately, of narratives and of the status of narrativity itself, this dissertation argues that because identity is always constructed in part around losses—of others and of self, mourning sustains a uniquely rich relationship to the formation of the stories through which we define ourselves as individual and as social or political beings.

The first section of this dissertation defines and examines two modes that I refer to as sentimental and counter-sentimental narrativity. The two chapters in this section examine antebellum texts in order to argue that while sentimental narrativity expresses a cultural fantasy of wholeness, sacred domesticity, and transcendent spirituality, counter-sentimental narrativity emerges as a vein within sentimentalism that both espoused and struggled against the limitations of sentimental tradition. Section two considers the context of the American Civil War and the authority that sentimental mourning exerted in shaping how the meaning of wartime death was understood and narrated in nurses’ memoirs and in public elegiac speech. Every chapter turns on the role of commemoration in how individual and cultural histories are narrated.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Stern, Julia A.
Commitee: Bell, Kevin, Erkkila, Betsy
School: Northwestern University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 69/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American history, American literature
Keywords: Civil War, Embalming, Historiography, Mourning, Narrativity, Nineteenth century, Sentimentalism
Publication Number: 3336546
ISBN: 978-0-549-89951-8
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