Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


This dissertation investigates the under-examined relationships between sibling characters in nineteenth-century American literature (1852-1900). Focusing on the depictions of siblinghood in such works as Herman Melville's Pierre, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars, and Edith Wharton's Bunner Sisters, I explore how nineteenth-century American authors construct, comment on, and use the sibling bond as an attempt to reconcile tensions of personal and collective identity and the competing drives for family ties and individual experience. In these fictions and others, I argue, siblinghood is a space where the rules of relation are negotiable and unfixed---where brothers and sisters use each other variously as partners in sympathetic union, extensions of their selves, and objects of identification, and do so in ways both supportive of and detrimental to one another. I read these texts with an eye on siblinghood to suggest new perspectives on major nineteenth-century fictions, as well as new ways of thinking about the nineteenth-century family.;In the first chapter, I argue that Melville's Pierre is a seduction novel, in which the site of seduction is the double promise of siblinghood to offer a close and sympathetic relation and the opportunity for virtuous or heroic performance. My second chapter looks at how Louisa May Alcott's Little Women exposes a significant (yet largely unacknowledged) cruelty at the heart of the nineteenth-century American family: that siblings are taught to invest their energies and their affections in one another in youth, but they are also taught that marriage is their goal-which takes them out of their home, and away from their brothers and sisters. Chapter Three explores the significance of the many adult and elderly sister pairs in local color literature of the late nineteenth century, arguing that the depiction of siblings living in close, marriage-like relationships---far beyond the period of time that most siblings share an intimate bond under the same roof---is part of these fictions' larger project of describing and preserving a United States in the midst of massive and rapid change. and Chapter Four investigates the many nineteenth-century authors who set their novels and stories in motion by separating two siblings on opposite sides of the color line, then exploring their relationships and identities as a result of this split.



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