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Davies, Kathleen (2016) WRITE TO PRIVACY: LITERATURE, LETTERS, LAW, AND THE INVIOLATE PERSONALITY IN AMERICA’S LONG NINETEENTH CENTURY. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Scholars and jurists recognize Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis’s influential Harvard Law Review article, “The Right to Privacy,” as the first articulation of a constitutional right to privacy, but its relatively late date (1890) in the chronology of constitutional law raises a number of questions. Why did the right to privacy become important at that particular moment? How did a concept with roots in property law come to apply to the “inviolate personality,” in Warren and Brandeis’s memorable phrase, independent of considerations of class (or race or gender)? This dissertation proposes answers to those questions, tracing the genealogy of the right to privacy through literature and law from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. The first chapter examines the connection between privacy and the written word, especially in letters and epistolary fiction. Writers like Hector St. John de Crevecoeur and Hannah Webster Foster probe the connection between personal correspondence and national commitments, contemplating the costs and benefits of privacy, and proposing the epistolary form as a vehicle for the self. The second chapter looks closely at representations of women in literature and readings of privacy that connected women with domestic space. Works by Alcott, Hawthorne, and Poe interrogate the limitations of domesticity and conventional gender roles, while proposing the written word as an alternate, more constructive site of privacy. The third chapter considers links between literacy, deprivation, and privacy, using anti-literacy laws and narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs to examine how the marginalizing experience of slavery informed discussions of privacy. The final chapter of the dissertation analyzes how societal changes create a perceived need for new rights and protections. Writers like William Dean Howells and Henry James decry newspaper culture and urbanization, warning that scrutiny and publicity endanger the self. This fear that publicity leads to privation informs Warren and Brandeis’s “The Right to Privacy,” as it urges protections for persons rather than property. The surprising origins of the right to privacy still affect our conflicted views on the uses of this right and the measures that we take to safeguard it.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Davies, Kathleenkjd21@pitt.eduKJD210000000186825457
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairArac,
Committee MemberGlazener,
Committee MemberWeikle-Mills,
Committee MemberCastiglia,
Date: 1 June 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 January 2016
Approval Date: 1 June 2016
Submission Date: 23 April 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 248
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Privacy, law, American Literature, domesticity, secrecy, deprivation, letters, correspondence, news paper, press, case law, Charles Brockden Brown, Hannah Webster Foster, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Nathanial Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Douglass, Charles Chesnutt, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Theodore Dreiser
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2016 17:29
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:33


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