Modernization and corporate bodies from Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Russ Castronovo - Committee Chair


Entitled "Modernization and Corporate Bodies from Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance," my dissertation positions itself against conventional understandings of aesthetics by demonstrating the political efficacy of a collection of literary works in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. By addressing a variety of societal ills, including working-class exploitation, sexual and racial discrimination, and racial violence, many artists of this period saw themselves and their works as agents of social change. Unfortunately, many artists soon discovered that the political consequences of their work were not always what they bargained for. While Jack London's depiction of the suffering working class might inspire public sympathy, the literary marketplace also converted this sympathy into a commodity. Or, to take another example, while Charles W. Chesnutt's novel can raise political consciousness about discrimination and violence against African Americans, his work also ran the risk of exacerbating existing racial tensions and fueling violent backlash. In addition to London and Chesnutt, my dissertation focuses on Rebecca Harding Davis, Booker T. Washington, and Nella Larsen to foreground narratives of aesthetic and political uncertainty. In a broader sense, my dissertation contributes to a central concern within contemporary criticism: the question of aesthetic autonomy.


Literature, Modern; Literature, American

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