Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Martin Bickman

Second Advisor

Maria Windell

Third Advisor

David Glimp

Fourth Advisor

Steve Lamos

Fifth Advisor

Jan Whitt


Examining Herman Melville’s magazine writing and late poetry, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s influential antislavery poetry and prose, Dread Stress details how nineteenth-century writers generate and modulate their aesthetics in relation to the shifting configurations of U.S. print culture. My dissertation maps such developing aesthetics across the gradual decline of the partisan press and the subsequent rise of the commercial press, an uneven transformation that occurred across the second half of the nineteenth century. I argue that Melville’s and Watkins Harper’s aesthetics, a term I use to designate modes of creative expression with the capacity to disrupt a community’s ways of perceiving and apportioning the shared world, come into being through their mutually constitutive relationship with their historical and material contexts. I therefore devote considerable attention to the spaces and material mediums where Melville’s and Watkins Harper’s texts emerge—such as the magazine, the antislavery newspaper, and the privately printed or published book. My close textual investigations thus evaluate the features of Melville’s and Watkins Harper’s texts in respect to their strategies for negotiating these mediums and their publics. Dread Stress is similarly invested in charting the political dimensions of these strategies, specifically in respect to how Melville’s and Watkins Harper’s writing disrupts or revises the boundaries of who can speak, and where and how they can do so. In pursuing these questions, the course of my discussion moves from Watkins Harper’s Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854) and Melville’s earliest magazine writings (pre-1853) to Melville’s final printed book, Timoleon, Etc., a near-forgotten text that is deeply relevant to our current historical moment.