English Language and Literature ETDs

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The references to Poland in United States print culture indicate that Poland is a significant presence in the nineteenth-century literary imagination. Though often idealized, Poland emerges as a gothic presence registering anxieties about culture, imperialism, slavery, the Other, economic ruin, and identity. Using Roland Barthes theory of cultural code, this dissertation looks to nineteenth-century United States newspapers to consider American readers' cultural knowledge about Poland. The coded history of revolution beneath each reference to Poland indicates that Polish revolution is the mechanism that reveals American anxieties about instability, imperialism, class inequalities, and violence—all of which put pressure on America's mythic history of revolution, freedom, and equality as they're expressed in literature. In Charles Brockden Brown's 'Somnambulism: A Fragment' (1805), the reference to Silesia and allusion to Poland is code for Poland's 1794 revolution against partitioning powers Austria, Prussia, and Russia. The allusion registers fears of outside threats to the sovereignty of the young, vulnerable United States. As code for the major 1830-31 revolution against partitioning powers, the Polish character in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' (1845) indicates American anxieties about the nation turning into an imperialistic aggressor similar to the nations that partitioned Poland because of its aggressive actions toward Mexico. For a nation struggling with its own imperialistic tendencies and increasingly quarreling over slavery, references to Poland in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick—code for the 1846 Polish revolution—reveal further anxieties about imperialism and human servitude. In the mid-nineteenth century, when the U.S. struggled with nativist attitudes toward Catholics and immigrants, Polish characters in E. D. E. N. Southworth's The Missing Bride (1855) and Louisa May Alcott's 'The Baron's Gloves' (1868) point to Poland's final nineteenth-century rebellions and betray anxieties about the threat and/or taint of the Polish Catholic immigrant Other. Finally, in Anthony Walton White Evans's 1883 biography, Memoir of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the financially broke and physically broken Thaddeus Kosciuszko, revolutionary hero of both Poland and America, registers concerns about economic ruin and psychological fragmentation that following crashes like that of the Panic of 1873.'

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Advisor

Aleman, Jesse

First Committee Member (Chair)

White, Peter

Second Committee Member

Washburn, Kathleen

Third Committee Member

Napierkowski, Thomas




Poland, Nineteenth-century, Gothic, American literature

Document Type