The Conquest of Mexico in the nineteenth-century transamerican novel
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Over the course of the nineteenth century, writers raised in the New World produced at least twenty historical novels about the Conquest of Mexico (1519-1521), making it one of the topics and time periods most frequently evoked in the era's literature. The oldest of these novels, Jicoténcal (1826), has interested scholars of transamerican literary relations for its plea for hemispheric unity in the face of Spanish imperialism. However, the other novels, despite their popularity with contemporary readers, have tended to be dismissed by modern critics as distractions for women and children and poor imitations of the historical novels of Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. This dissertation, which includes chapters on literary texts by the Cuban author Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Guatimozín; 1846), the US American author Lew Wallace (The Fair God; 1873), and the Mexican author Ireneo Paz (Amor y suplicio; 1873), repositions the Conquest novel as a work of socially engaged literature that is meant to be consumed during the reader's leisure hours but is nonetheless interested in shaping the reader's political actions. Drawing on archival materials such as the authors' letters, journalism, and unpublished speeches, as well as the work of scholars like Doris Sommer, Roberto González Echevarría, and Gretchen Murphy, the dissertation reveals that the writers of Conquest novels manipulated the story of Spain's subjugation of the Aztec Empire to intervene in contemporary debates over imperialism, republicanism, and regional/national identity. Together, these texts chronicle Americans' shifting perceptions of the relations between the New and Old Worlds and between the creoles, Indians, and mestizos who share the western hemisphere. When approached as a unique discursive formation, Conquest novels challenge the boundaries between nations, genres, and disciplines that have tended to constrict scholarship on nineteenth-century literature. They expose some of the ways that authors have used stories about the past to reflect on the present and guide the future.