Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Literary and Cultural Studies

Committee Chair

Theron Britt

Committee Member

Joshua Phillips

Committee Member

John D Miles

Committee Member

Jeffrey Scraba


Critics and commentators have recently reinitiated interest in Romanticism within the sphere of nineteenth-century American literature, and have sought to recuperate Romantic aesthetics to explore the implications of the American renaissance. The scholarship in Romantic theory has given impetus to a New Romanticism that synthesizes philosophy of literature--phenomenology and poststructuralism--with cultural and genre studies. This dissertation studies four canonic mid-nineteenth-century American authors--Emerson, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville--through the nexus of Romantic negativity and originality, and takes a metacritical approach to a transatlantic critical field juxtaposing American Transcendentalism, British Romanticism, and German Idealism within the sphere of an antebellum cultural matrix composed of American literary culture and politics. As a central premise this dissertation acknowledges the dialectical tensions between European concepts of originality stemming from German and British thinkers and critics and the prevailing tenor of Americanism. The tension in the American antebellum critical scene was exacerbated by cultural debates among literati in the main publishing centers, as well as a desire among intellectuals to create a national aesthetic identity. The critical issue for American literati centered on the relation between originality and democracy. This study concludes that among American romantics both British and German metaphysical ideas formed a concept of negative originality, which becomes a central concern specifically in Emerson's Nature, Poe's Eureka, Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, and Melville's The Confidence-Man. While recent studies have explored transatlantic and literary national discursive aspects of genre and publishing in the antebellum era, this study explores the specific relations between a phenomenology of authorship and a hermeneutics of Romantic theory, and situates American Romantic literary theory as an effect of politically charged demands for originality.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.