Declarations of Independence and Acts of Union: Gender and National Identity in US and Irish Literature, 1780--1860

Date of Completion

January 2012


Literature, Modern|Literature, American|Literature, English|Gender Studies




"Declarations of Independence and Acts of Union" examines the ways in which writers in the United States and Ireland manipulate similar literary strategies for often very different political ends. It focuses specifically on the ways writers use genres such as sentimentalism and the gothic and forms such as allegory to narrate their nations' shifting relationships to Great Britain. I argue that studying literature from these two nations side by side allows for a fuller understanding of how writers tell stories of nation through stories about marriage and family life, and that while from 1800 on Irish authors write as citizens of Great Britain, they continue to explore issues such as race and ethnicity through lenses similar to those employed by writers in the newly independent US. While paying careful attention to the specifics of national history and culture, I show how these parallels of form and subject matter reveal a transatlantic literary exchange about how nations should be formed and who should be given a voice in national policy. I analyze a broad range of texts, from well-known works such as Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Maria Edgeworth's The Absentee to texts such as Mary Letitia Martin's Julia Howard and Sally Wood's Julia, and the Illuminated Baron on which there is little published criticism. ^ The first chapter explores how sentimental novels in the late eighteenth century use single women to symbolize nations navigating the process of gaining independence from Great Britain, and Chapter Two analyzes the ways in which gothic novels express yearning for the stability symbolized by British class systems. I then move in the third and fourth chapters to a consideration of interracial marriage allegories, which subordinate even as they incorporate indigenous populations. The dissertation concludes with a chapter on familial allegory in texts responding to slavery in the US and the Great Famine in Ireland. As nations struggle to define themselves, they also struggle to decide who can be part of the national family, and these are the questions with which "Declarations of Independence and Acts of Union" is preoccupied. ^