Writing the Republic: liberalism and morality in American political fiction

Hutchison, Anthony (2004) Writing the Republic: liberalism and morality in American political fiction. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This thesis deploys works of literature, political theory and intellectual history to reach an understanding of both the specific form and the content taken by the American political novel. This understanding is informed by an over-arching analysis of liberalism as the dominant ideology within the US political tradition and the pressure, moral and political, exerted on this ideology by successive counter-ideologies at various historical junctures.

The alleged 'anti-political' basis of many post World War II theories of American literature is initially explored along with the relative absence of American literature in studies of the political novel. Works by the 'New Americanist' literary critics as well as an important recent study of American political fiction by John Whalen-Bridge are also subjected to critical scrutiny.

In the central chapters, novels by Gore Vidal, Russell Banks, Lionel Trilling and Philip Roth foreground the critique of liberalism put forward by republicanism, Transcendentalism, Marxism and neo-conservatism at their respective historical moments of ascent. The aim here, primarily, is to treat novelists seriously as political thinkers; much of the analysis is, accordingly, inter-disciplinary in approach drawing from artists, philosophers and theorists such as Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Hannah Arendt, John Dewey and numerous contemporary commentators and historians as well as the novelists listed above.

Melville's Moby Dick is ultimately invoked as a formal template for the American political novel with a theory of 'republican' fiction then being presented that is compared and contrasted with the 'democratic' mode Mikhail Bakhtin associated with Dostoevsky. The American political novel, finally, it is argued, is always informed by the complexities of the American political tradition itself: a form of immanent liberal critique pre-occupied with the health of the polity and guided by a 'republican' persuasion.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Supervisors:King, R.H.
Murray, D.J.
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
ID Code:1067
Deposited By:June Walsh
Deposited On:12 Jan 2010 09:34
Last Modified:12 Jan 2010 09:34

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