Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

May, Brian, 1959-

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of English


United States--Relations--19th century; United States--Foreign public opinion--19th century; English literature; Political science; English fiction--19th century--History and criticism; English literature--19th century--Social aspects


The representation of America in Victorian fiction follows a trajectory of increasing favorability after the War of 1812 and before the Civil War, when America, still an interested subject across the Atlantic, became more uncouth and unjust by the British standard; however, the reasons for this trajectory are not as simple as pointing to a damaged economy and disfigured political image brought about by the Civil War. Favorable depictions of America depended on its power and the strength of competitive countries; in other words, as long as America remained powerful and attractive, thereby possessing more than just brute military strength, Great Britain respected and at times deferred to America. I use Joseph S. Nye's international relations theory of soft power to explain British representations of America and, at times, Canada as functions of a state's need to adapt to international shifts in values and interests; in other words, America's popularity and upward immigration trend each decade before the Civil War forced other powerful western states to acknowledge its status as a competitor. The most favorable fictional representations of America coincide with its soft power apex, the high point in the kind of attractiveness derived from culture, values, and economic opportunity. A noticeable substantial change in the nineteenth century occurred at the time in the early 1840s when Charles Dickens and Frederick Marryat travelled to North America and then narrated and fictionalized their experiences; at this time, America's relatively newfound strength challenged preconceived British notions of the former colony, thereby resulting in ambivalent attitudes towards it. Additionally, the importance of soft power is evident in the late 1840s when many European states were facing tumultuous revolutions, the United States was prospering by its westward expansion, and Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Gaskell were writing novels preferring the North American frontier to the settled British landscape. But by the 1860s, when America's internal fighting and weak economy during the Civil War damaged its reputation, British authors, such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Charlotte Yonge, used that opportunity to aggrandize Great Britain. While many European states were zealously participating in an arms race, wielding their hard power, which can be described as aggressive military or economic strength, mid-Victorian British novelists understood the potency of soft power in negotiating international relations and capitalizing on the weaknesses and strengths of another state.


Advisors: Brian May.||Committee members: Jeffrey Einboden; Kathleen Renk.


254 pages




Northern Illinois University

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