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Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



Vivian Pollak, Peter Kastor, Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Robert Milder, Daniel Shea, Rafia Zafar


English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2008

Degree Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Following their conversions to Roman Catholicism in the mid-1840s, Orestes Augustus Brownson of Boston and Anna Hanson Dorsey of Baltimore joined the leading figures of a nascent American Catholic literary culture in search of suitable forms through which to share its experiences and its truths with one other and with the nation at large. Many native and foreign-born Catholics alike, beset by anti-Catholic pressures and an internal lack of consensus regarding the future of American Catholic identity , looked to Brownson and Dorsey to help them imagine a useable group identity , which combined their many cultural, ethnic and religious allegiances. In particular , the American Catholic hegemony utilized these converts as bridges toward assimilation and as allies in a project of social control over a mass of "low " immigrants that compromised American Catholic respectability. This dissertation examines the reciprocal patterns of influence between these two Anglo-American converts and the Irish ethos that came to dominate American Catholicism in the century ' s second half. Both writers labored to convert new immigrant Catholics toward their Anglo- American sensibilities. While in his Review Brownson told Catholics repeatedly about the importance of assimilating to Anglo-American norms and cultivating Republican virtues , Dorsey showed them how to harmonize conflicting identities and allegiances. While Brownson sought through a rhetoric of consensus to unite American Catholics against a common Protestant foe, Dorsey, drawing heavily on the conventions of popular Anglo- Protestant fiction, invited her Catholic audiences to participate in a broader cultural communion through a unique Catholic sentimentalism. Her "domestic" fiction itself served as an imaginative home where diverse readers could live whole and holy lives together. Both converts were again converted by their engagement with Irish Catholicism to new ways of performing their own ethnic and religious identities. After sustained quarrels with conservative Irish Catholics, Brownson felt himself "turning Paddy," embracing an Irish ethos of cultural otherness and resistance to a modernity dominated by greed, materialism and self-interest. By contrast, Dorsey experienced no quarrel with Irish America; nevertheless, her later life and work reflect the steady influence of Irish Catholic devotionalism, an expression of everyday Catholic life that became the dominant ethos of American Catholicity.


Permanent URL: Print version available in library catalog at # LD5791.8 PhD2008 C23.

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