American literature is typically seen as something that inspired its own conception and that sprang into being as a cultural offshoot of America's desire for national identity. But what of the vast precedent established by English literature, which was a major American import between 1750 and 1850?
In The Importance of Feeling English, Leonard Tennenhouse revisits the landscape of early American literature and radically revises its features. Using the concept of transatlantic circulation, he shows how some of the first American authors--from poets such as Timothy Dwight and Philip Freneau to novelists like William Hill Brown and Charles Brockden Brown--applied their newfound perspective to pre-existing British literary models. These American "re-writings" would in turn inspire native British authors such as Jane Austen and Horace Walpole to reconsider their own ideas of subject, household, and nation.
The enduring nature of these literary exchanges dramatically recasts early American literature as a literature of diaspora, Tennenhouse argues--and what made the settlers' writings distinctly and indelibly American was precisely their insistence on reproducing Englishness, on making English identity portable and adaptable. Written in an incisive and illuminating style, The Importance of Feeling English reveals the complex roots of American literature, and shows how its transatlantic movement aided and abetted the modernization of Anglophone culture at large.
Leonard Tennenhouse is professor of English, comparative literature, and modern culture and media at Brown University. He is the author of Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare's Genres.
"Tennenhouse argues persuasively that the severance of political ties between London and the thirteen colonies did not provoke a . . . division in the cultural sphere. Americans continued to think of themselves as culturally English for a long time. [Tennenhouse] casts this rich and fascinating book [as] a contribution to the study of American literature, but it has much to say about English literature of the period. It deserves to be widely read on both sides of the Atlantic."--John D. Baird, Times Literary Supplement
"In revisiting the landscape of early American literature, The Importance of Feeling English radically revises its features. Tennenhouse focuses on the concept of transatlantic circulation and shows how some of the first American authors applied their perspective to existing British literary models."--Times Higher Education
"This important book has implications for a far wider account of cultural exchange than Tennenhouse himself focuses on here. . . . The Importance of Feeling English encourages additional consideration about the relationships among diasporic cultures, including Spanish and African, in frontiers far away from the Northeast, which might be more sensitive to spatial and regional differences in an expanding United States."--Spencer Snow, Common-place
"[T]here can be no doubt that Tennenhouse is correct in insisting that the American Revolution did not produce a clean break in some Americans' Anglophilia and that he offers an interesting and provocative account of American literary origins that are bound to generate further discussion."--Ralph Bauer, American Literary History
"[T]he true genius of this book lies in its careful and elegantly parsed readings of generic shifts and accommodations."--Susan Scott Parrish, Eighteenth Century Studies
Table of Contents:
CHAPTER ONE: Diaspora and Empire 1
CHAPTER TWO: Writing English in America 19
CHAPTER THREE: The Sentimental Libertine 43
CHAPTER FOUR: The Heart of Masculinity 73
CHAPTER FIVE: The Gothic in Diaspora 94
AFTERWORD: From Cosmopolitanism to Hegemony 118