Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Thomas Haddox

Committee Members

Dawn Coleman, William Hardwig, Nancy Henry, Stephen V. Ash


“The Dixie Plantation State: Antebellum Fiction and Global Capitalism” connects the development of literature of the U.S. South to the ideological tensions inherent in the southern plantation economy before the Civil War. Southern literary form during this time reflects an economy that was sustained by international capitalism but which imagined itself as a version of provincial feudalism. The antebellum southern economy was defined by slavery and individual plantations, which created a culture that was isolated, rural, and oppressive. However, with global trade through cotton plantations as the driving force behind regional profit, the southern economy was also shaped by a form of laissez-faire, liberal capitalism that emphasized individual opportunism and modernization. The texts I discuss create myths of plantation life and re-imagine southern society under the plantation economy in ways that simultaneously support and question the ideological foundations of the system. Literary representation then becomes a method of merging nineteenth-century models of capitalism and international trade with the ostensibly self-contained tendencies of the plantation and the racial oppression of the slave system.

Each chapter is organized around a different literary form or genre and incorporates a comparative study of British fiction and fiction of the U.S. South. I argue that the form of nineteenth-century southern literature developed in tandem with the expansion of transatlantic trade. Therefore, the antebellum authors I discuss in this study do not consistently separate literary value from practical business or financial concerns. In chapters that focus on the historical romance, the sketch form, social problem novels, and African-American autobiographical narratives, I highlight the interconnected nature of literary representation and economic change. Authors such as William Gilmore Simms, Joseph Glover Baldwin, George Tucker, Maria J. McIntosh, and Martin Delany drew from British novels such as Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South to represent the South as both economically progressive and culturally traditional. In this sense, fiction allowed southern authors to engage with the quasi-feudal space of the plantation within the modern economic models of the nineteenth century, without fully rejecting or denying either.

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