Reverberating voices and spaces
Skaggs, Carmen Trammell
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By using the lens of opera to consider a broad range of American literature, this study seeks to escape from the boundaries of ordinary literary discourse (Lindenberger, Opera: The Extravagant Art, 70) and expand the critical framework. As Herbert Lindenberger noted, literary critics have embraced musical terminology to suggest nonverbal dimension beyond what we ordinarily take to be the realm of literature (Opera: The Extravagant Art, 70), but many of these same scholars have been wary of embracing anything operatic. After all, the operatic often suggests absurdity, artificiality, irrationality, and extravagance. Some of the works included in this dissertation are indisputably canonical; others might be described in operatic (and disparaging) terms: contrived, artificial, bizarre. Through the critical discourse of opera—both as art form and social institution scholars of American literature may deepen their understanding of a period marked by significant developments. As the canon of American writing grew more diverse, so, too, did American exposure to opera. The literary works studied here reflect the writers’ efforts to articulate the artist’s vision while also establishing an authoritative authorial voice. Opera’s voices and opera’s spaces enriched the works of Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Louisa May Alcott, Kate Chopin, Willa Cather, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.