ABOUT THIS BOOK
Eclipse of Empires analyzes the nineteenth-century American fascination with what Patricia Jane Roylance calls “narratives of imperial eclipse,” texts that depict the surpassing of one great civilization by another.
Patricia Jane Roylance’s central claim in Eclipse of Empires is that historical episodes of imperial eclipse, for example Incan Peru yielding to Spain or the Ojibway to the French, heightened the concerns of many American writers about specific intranational social problems plaguing the nation at the time—race, class, gender, religion, economics. Given the eventual dissolution of great civilizations previously plagued by these very same problems, many writers, unlike those who confidently emphasized U.S. exceptionalism, exhibited both an anxiety about the stability of American society and a consistent practice of self-scrutiny in identifying the national defects that they felt could precipitate America’s decline.
Roylance studies, among other texts, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Water-Witch (1830) and The Bravo (1831), which address the eclipse of Venice by New York City as a maritime power in the eighteenth century; William Hickling Prescott’s Conquest of Peru (1847), which responds to widespread anxiety about communist and abolitionist threats to the U.S. system of personal property by depicting Incan culture as a protocommunist society doomed to failure; and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha (1855), which resists the total eclipse of Ojibwa culture by incorporating Ojibway terms and stories into his poem and by depicting the land as permanently marked by their occupation.