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The Global Remapping of American Literature$
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Paul Giles

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691136134

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691136134.001.0001

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Medieval American Literature: Antebellum Narratives and the “Map of the Infinite”

Medieval American Literature: Antebellum Narratives and the “Map of the Infinite”

(p.70) Chapter 2 Medieval American Literature: Antebellum Narratives and the “Map of the Infinite”
The Global Remapping of American Literature

Paul Giles

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines how the notion of medieval American literature not only makes a paradoxical kind of sense but might be seen as integral to the construction of the subject more generally. It argues that antebellum narratives situate native soil on a highly charged and fraught boundary between past and present, circumference and displacement. In itself, the idea of medieval American literature is hardly more peculiar than F. O. Matthiessen's conception of an “American Renaissance.” Matthiessen sought to justify his subject by aligning nineteenth-century American writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne with seventeenth-century English forerunners such as William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. The chapter considers resonances of medievalism within nineteenth-century American culture and how many antebellum writers consciously foreground within their texts the shifting, permeable boundaries of time and space, suggesting how fiction and cartography, the writing of history and the writing of geography, are commensurate with each other.

Keywords:   medieval American literature, antebellum narratives, F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, medievalism, American culture, cartography, geography

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