Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Bill Hardwig

Committee Members

Mary Papke, Martin Griffin, Thomas Haddox, Derek Alderman

Abstract

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, national periodicals such as Harper's, The Century, and The Atlantic Monthly eagerly solicited and published literature depicting small, often isolated regional communities within the United States – literature collectively referred to as local color. This project examines a tension that exists between two conflicting impulses that drove local color writing – one that sought to participate in an ethnographic project rooted in literary realism, the other that reveled in representing local spaces as sites of ambiguity, uncertainty, illegibility, and impenetrability. "Translating Chopin's Parrot" argues that literary historicists, drawn to the ethnographic elements of local color, often elide or fail to account for the tension that exists between these elements and those that, in accentuating indeterminacy and mystery, contest and complicate ethnography's empirical presuppositions. Unsurprisingly, this tension has led to interpretive conflicts over the most fruitful approach to reading local color literature. This project divides these conflicts into four categories – conflicts over definitions, translations, mappings, and misreadings of genre. It takes as a case study literature written about Creole and Cajun Louisiana during the heyday of local color (1865-1914) and articulates what a historicist framework can and cannot illuminate about texts by George Washington Cable, Charles Gayarré, Lafcadio Hearn, Kate Chopin, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson. In doing so, it makes the larger argument that, rather than occupying a quaint and idiosyncratic niche within nineteenth-century American literature, local color grapples with significant epistemological, aesthetic, and hermeneutic questions.

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