Nineteenth-century US literary studies was launched in part by what has been called “the American Romance thesis”--the claim that narrative fiction from that place and period (as exemplified by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and others) flouted the consolidating realist protocols of the British novel and, in so doing, diverged from the secularization narrative typically taken to underpin that literary-historical development. Much contested since, the American Romance thesis might offer a new historical-materialist solution to what Fredric Jameson, in his tête-à-tête with Northrop Frye, called “the problem of the persistence of romance,” a solution that demands departure from the dubious secularist premises undergirding both Frye and Jameson’s very different solutions to this problem. The historical manifestation of the romance, whether among twelfth-century Norman elites in England or nineteenth-century Anglo elites in the US, might be taken to reveal the form’s ever-intensifying function in justifying the settler-colonial theft of Indigenous lands as the latest immanentization of divine power/knowledge in the westward course of the translatio imperii et studii. Mark Twain’s decadent meta-romance, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, points toward this new, sweeping history of the Anglo(phone) romance as a settler scripture that demands post-secularist treatment.
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