Modernity and Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America: Literary Representations of Communication and Transportation Technologies. New York: Palgrave, 2017.
“This book is a brilliant treatment of the impact of disruptive technologies on the very way in which great writers such as Mark Twain and Henry Adams conceive and compose autobiographical texts. The analyses are rich, subtle and original. Dobson's own writing is powerful and poignant. In short, this work is pioneering in a courageous way!”
—Cornel R. West, Professor, Harvard Divinity School, Massachusetts, USA
“This is a beautifully written study that accomplishes its purpose with adroit and nuanced criticism…The great original contribution of the study is to argue for regionalism as constitutively bound up with modern experience...”
—Stephen Shapiro, Professor, English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
This book examines temporal and formal disruptions found in American autobiographical narratives produced during the end of the nineteenth century. It argues that disruptions were primarily the result of encounters with new communication and transportation technologies. Through readings of major autobiographical works of the period, James E. Dobson argues that the range of affective responses to writing, communicating, and traveling at increasing speed and distance were registered in this literature’s formal innovation. These autobiographical works, Dobson claims, complicate our understanding of the lived experience of time, temporality, and existing accounts of periodization. This study first examines the competing views of space and time in the nineteenth century and then moves to examine how high-speed train travel altered American literary regionalism, the region, and history. Later chapters examine two narratives of failed homecoming that are deeply ambivalent about modernity and technology, Henry James’s The American Scene and Theodore Dreiser’s A Hoosier Holiday, before a reading of the telephone network as a metaphor for historiography and autobiography in Henry Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams.