Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Known criminals Nineteenth-century U.S. crime literature and the epistemology of notoriety
by Blandford, Jon W., Ph.D., Indiana University, 2011, 247; 3466316
Abstract (Summary)

“Known Criminals” investigates early national and antebellum notoriety, a cultural formation ambiguously situated between criminality and celebrity and historically situated between the execution sermons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the detective novels and courtroom fiction of the late nineteenth century. In contrast to the more formulaic representations of crime that bookend this period, an epistemologically messy literature of notoriety flourished during the tumultuous early years of the new republic, registering its social and cultural upheavals. Crime, I argue, exerted a deformative pressure on this era's dominant types of generic management, pulling apart existing forms and reassembling them into often fugitive new configurations that, instead of rendering judgment, render judgment problematic. Focusing on criminal memoir, my first chapter analyzes how the incoherent presentation of self in the bestselling memoirs of late eighteenth-century confidence man Stephen Burroughs at once evokes and deconstructs an imagined national unity. My second chapter turns from the crisis of foundation to the conflict over slavery that jeopardized a tenuous national unity, spotlighting how Harriet Beecher Stowe's intertextual interrogation of the Confessions of Nat Turner (1831) in her antislavery novel Dred (1856) utilizes the instability of the confessional mode as a way to spread responsibility for the crime of slavery. Chapter three traces the origins of true crime to Catharine Williams's Fall River: An Authentic Narrative (1833), a published rejoinder to a sensational murder trial that draws on notoriety's generic hybridity as a critical alternative both to the gendered judgments of the courtroom and to the sentimental discourse of which this text is often mistakenly classed as a representative example. Finally, chapter four tracks the emergence of a second new form, the courtroom novel. This genre, I propose, first gets codified in James Fenimore Cooper's seldom-read final novel The Ways of the Hour (1850), a remarkable fusion of the legal and the literary that Cooper imagines might regulate notoriety's messy profusion of knowledge and judgment by making it subject to the language of the law.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Elmer, Jonathan
Commitee: Fleissner, Jennifer, Gutjahr, Paul, Williams, Nicholas
School: Indiana University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 72/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American literature
Keywords: Burroughs, Stephen, Cooper, James Fenimore, Crime literature, Notoriety, Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Williams, Catharine
Publication Number: 3466316
ISBN: 978-1-124-79332-0
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