Date of Degree
William P. Kelly
Joan Wallach Scott
American literature, translation, reprinting, French Revolution, Haitian Revolution
The French Revolution in Early American Literature, 1789-1815: Translations, Interpretations, Refractions, examines the meaning of the French and Haitian Revolutions in early U.S. literary culture by analyzing American novels, periodical fiction, and essays that engaged with French revolutionary politics (by writers including Judith Sargent Murray, Martha Meredith Read, Charles Brockden Brown, and Joseph Dennie); as well as translations and reprints of French texts by writers including Stéphanie de Genlis, Sophie Cottin, and Jean-Baptiste Piquenard that circulated among American readers during this period. Drawing on archival research, and the methodology of book history, this study establishes that translations—though often disregarded by literature scholars because of their seeming unoriginality, their reputations as mere copies of foreign originals, and the presumption that they are therefore not properly literary—in fact played a crucial role in the development of U.S.-American literature. This dissertation thus aims to demonstrate that, far from an extraneous or superficial part of the early United States’ literary culture, translations and reprints of French texts in fact formed a substantial part of that culture; that American writers’ engagements with French revolutionary and counterrevolutionary politics, philosophy, and literature in the years 1789-1815, significantly affected their thinking about the meaning of democracy, equality, political representation, race, and gender; and that this facet of early U.S. literary culture marks American literature as not only transnational but translational: American literature developed not by breaking away from European influences, but precisely through engaging with those influences, often in languages other than English. This study thus critiques the monolingualism of early American studies and, drawing on work in translation theory by critics including Barbara Cassin and Lawrence Venuti, argues for new methodologies and practices that engage with the multilingual origins of American literature.
Chatellier, Courtney, "The French Revolution in Early American Literature, 1789–1815: Translations, Interpretations, Refractions" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.