Communicable Disease in the American Literary Imagination Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Bezio, Kelly L.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Communicable disease repeatedly found its way into early American fictional and autobiographical works. Rather than producing stories in which illness signaled dangerous otherness in need of control or even eradication, my study shows how authors from William Byrd II to Harriet Beecher Stowe used infectious disorders to develop inclusive conceptions of national belonging. By examining medical texts alongside literary works written from approximately 1720 to 1870, I make the case that like-cures-like principles undergirding inoculation and homeopathy helped to construct a worldview in which susceptibility to other cultures was seen as therapeutic. Scholars have tended to interpret disease in literature as a device for stigmatizing outsiders--a reading well-suited to our modern age's ambivalent attitude toward exposure in an increasingly globalized world. But when we study this earlier period in American literary history, we find a remarkably different narrative. Indeed, I argue that attentiveness to the salutary effects of cross-cultural infections reveals an as-yet-unexamined national episteme in which foreign influences served to constitute community.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Thrailkill, Jane
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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