“Benjamin Hoffmann presents, with wonderful insight, a portrait of a young American nation by three French writers. The particular oddity of their perspective, hence the delightful originality of this work, is that what they depict in their various ways is a society and polity that they know to be no longer valid—for which Hoffmann coins the term of ‘posthumous’ narrative, sometimes tainted with nostalgia or outright fiction, in an already-archaic American landscape.”
—Philip Stewart, author of Engraven Desire: Eros, Image, and Text in the French Eighteenth Century
Benjamin Hoffmann’s Posthumous America
examines the literary idealization of a lost American past in the works of French writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
For writers such as John Hector St. John de Crèvecœur and Claude-François de Lezay-Marnésia, America was never more potent as a driving ideal than in its loss. Examining the paradoxical American paradise depicted in Crèvecœur’s Lettres d’un cultivateur américain (1784); the “uchronotopia”—the imaginary perfect society set in America and based on what France might have become without the Revolution—of Lezay-Marnésia’s Lettres écrites des rives de l’Ohio (1792); and the political and nationalistic motivations behind François-René Chateaubriand’s idealization of America in Voyage en Amérique (1827) and Mémoires d’outre-tombe (1850), Hoffmann shows how the authors’ liberties with the truth helped create the idealized and nostalgic representation of America that dominated the collective European consciousness of their times. From a historical perspective, Posthumous America works to determine when exactly these writers stopped transcribing what they actually observed in America and started giving imaginary accounts of their experiences.
A vital contribution to transatlantic studies, this detailed exploration of French perspectives on the colonial era, the War of Independence, and the birth of the American Republic sheds new light on the French fascination with America. Posthumous America will be invaluable for historians, political scientists, and specialists of literature whose scholarship looks at America through European eyes.
Introduction: New World Paradoxes
1. Saint-John de Crèvecoeur and Nostalgia for Colonial America
2. Lezay-Marnésia and Nostalgia for the American Golden Age
3. Chateaubriand and Nostalgia for French America
Conclusion: America, a Mobile Sign
is Assistant Professor of Early Modern French Studies at The Ohio State University. His recent publications include a critical edition of Claude-François de Lezay-Marnésia’s Letters Written from the Banks of the Ohio
, also published by Penn State University Press, as well as four novels in French.
About the translator:
Alan J. Singerman is Richardson Professor Emeritus of French at Davidson College, the translator of Benjamin Hoffmann’s critical edition of Letters Written from the Banks of the Ohio, and the editor and translator of Abbé Prévost’s novel The Greek Girl’s Story, both also published by Penn State University Press.
An English translation of Benjamin Hoffmann’s French monograph L’Amérique posthume
. Examines the literary idealization of a lost American past in eighteenth-century French literature.