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Cultural Secrets as Narrative Form

Storytelling in Nineteenth-Century America

Margaret Reid

“Through a sophisticated yet accessible and engaging analysis, [Reid] reveals a pattern . . . that exposes a compelling, and often complex, interplay between the literary and the historical, and between narrative form and cultural self-definition; from that interplay powerful and enduring archetypes emerge.” —Choice

“Cultural Secrets as Narrative Form is a ground-breaking account of how historical memory is constructed in works by James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Owen Wister. Margaret Reid deals brilliantly with issues raised by the subject of historical memory in nineteenth-century American literature and historiography, reconfiguring prevailing ideas about how historical secrets are encoded in romantic, nationalist, frontier, and dramatic narratives. She writes with the sophistication of a thinker who has been pondering her subjects for a lifetime.” —Susan Mizruchi, Boston University

“Cultural Secrets as Narrative Form is a fascinating study of the rise of American national literature. This is one of the most detailed and urgent readings of national romance through the lens of narrative and social theory that I have seen in over twenty years.” —Dale Bauer, University of Kentucky

Cultural Secrets as Narrative Form: Storytelling in Nineteenth-Century America examines the interplay between the familiar and the forgotten in tales of America’s first century as a nation. By studying both the common concerns and the rising tensions between the known and the unknown, the told and the untold, this book offers readers new insight into the making of a nation through stories. Here, identity is built not so much through the winnowing competition of perspectives as through the cumulative layering of stories, derived from sources as diverse as rumors circulating in early patriot newspapers and the highest achievements of aesthetic culture. And yet this is not a source study: the interaction of texts is reciprocal, and the texts studied are not simply complementary but often jarring in their interrelations. The result is a new model of just how some of America’s central episodes of self-definition—the Puritan legacy, the Revolutionary War, and the Western frontier—have achieved near mythic force in the national imagination. The most powerful myths of national identity, this author argues, are not those that erase historical facts but those able to transform such facts into their own deep resources.

Margaret Reid is assistant professor of English at Providence College.

Mar 2004
Narrrative, history, literature, American studies
304 pp 6x9

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