Reading Riot and Revolution: Tom Paine's Career of Mischief

Rizzuto, Anthony Dean, Department of English, University of Virginia
McGann, Jerome, Department of English, University of Virginia
Lott, Eric, Department of English, University of Virginia

Thomas Paine's enormous popularity among the working classes of both Britain and the United States has become a historiographical given. Equally legendary is the outpouring of outrage and hostility that attended this popularity. This dissertation seeks to unpack the emotional and ideological uproar that surrounded Paine throughout his career through a detailed history of the production, distribution, and reception of Paine's epochal works. I argue that Paine's three epochal texts--Common Sense, Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason--became critical nexus-points within a profound reimagining of national community at the end of the eighteenth century. My approach relies on a material and performative idea of textuality, elaborated in the Introduction, which draws on such key theorists as Pierre Bourdieu, Raymond Williams, and Jerome McGann. In Chapter 1, "Becoming Tom Paine: The Making and Unmaking of 'Common Sense,' 1776-1787," I explore the rhetorical and material creation of "Tom Paine" as a popular icon, coterminous with the invention of "America." This debate becomes yet more urgent in the chapters on Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, set amid the shrill and dangerous debate on British nationality in the 1790s. Here I show how the radical pamphleteer signifies subaltern insurrection and Rizzuto v foreign infiltration, against which a properly "English" identity is imagined. Paine's rhetoric binds him with the questionable lower classes even as his publication practices solicit their proscribed inclusion in the emergent public sphere. I survey the vast field of Paine's interlocutors, which include sundry figures high and low: tavern dwellers and kings; poets, publishers, and magistrates; underworld agitators and state spies. Paine's ultimate significance, this study suggests, lies not only within the borders of his texts--in his ideas or his style--but in the raucous histories around them. In the Conclusion I draw these themes together by reflecting on my first encounter with Paine. I add a bibliography of replies to The Age of Reason in the Appendix. Rizzuto vi To my comrade and mentor John -- And to Helen, who was yet more -- And to Cynthia, who is all.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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