Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines how several British novelists--Elizabeth Hamilton, Phebe Gibbes, Sydney Owenson, Frances Brooke, Unca Eliza Winkfield, Charlotte Smith, and Robert Bage--were actively redeveloping a political aesthetic theory for the late eighteenth-century by using the landscape of India and North America to discuss Britain, her policies, and her political leaders. These writers applied Edmund Burke's notions of the sublime and beautiful to India and North America as a way to discuss shifting social, cultural, and political views as well as watershed moments such as the Hastings trial. A comparative, multi-themed study of these writers' work is beneficial (if not necessary) to our understanding of the cultural complexities of British colonialism in this era. This dissertation offers new insights upon how colonial politics and Burkean aesthetics were rhetorically deployed in the late eighteenth century. It also actively participates in the recovery process for several novelists whose work has only recently begun to receive critical attention. My study does not focus on these novelists as marginal writers, but as authors (much like Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Paine) who were actively involved in the politics of their time and whose novels serve as vehicles for dialogue on both domestic and foreign policy. The novels of Hamilton, Gibbes, Owenson, Winkfield, Brooke, Bage, and Smith contain numerous conflicting descriptions of India in which the landscape is described as both sublime (masculine) and beautiful (feminine). I contend that the conflicting nature of these descriptions reflects Burke's own varying portrayals of India, questions his rhetorical style, and employs his own aesthetic theory to mock his shifting political and cultural views. Nor is it only Burke's rhetorical style and strategies that these authors explore and critique, but the very nature of political oratory itself.
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