About the author: Robert Dunne, PhD, is Associate Professor of English, and American Studies Program Coordinator at Central Connecticut State University. A Fulbright Senior Scholar in Budapest, Hungary (1996), he regularly teaches 19th and early 20th century American literature. He has published works on a number of subjects, including 19th century Irish immigration, the American literary canon, colonial literature, labor novels, William Faulkner, and Sherwood Anderson.2002 0-7734-7215-0
This provocative book, which crosses disciplines, argues that the confrontation between antebellum Irish immigrants and mainstream Americans helped reshape American ideology and, in particular, the American Dream Myth. As Irish immigrants became a growing presence in the United States, American society reacted in what Dunne calls a “Protestant backlash: clerical and lay interests banded together and attempted to codify the very definition of “America” and thereby relegate Irish immigrants to society’s margins. In an exhaustive examination of self-help manuals, political pamphlets, religious tracts, newspaper editorials, and instructional novels, this study contrasts the disparities between the actions of nativists and their rhetoric of reaffirming “American” identity. It also critiques current trends in multicultural studies and posits a strong cases for studying marginalized groups from European backgrounds within the larger context of their interactions with mainstream society.
“The arguments that Professor Dunne puts forth in his book are a well-reasoned and well-documented corrective to the present-day orthodoxy that simplifies and distorts the meaning and significance of ethnic Americans by consigning them all into the dustbin of ‘white male oppressors.’ . . . Perhaps we will soon move beyond what currently passes for multiculturalism to a truer, deeper, more nuanced examination of what made – and makes – America unique. I can think of no better place to begin than with Robert Dunne’s fine work.” – Peter Quinn
“There is a rich historical literature on anti-Catholic sentiment in nineteenth-century America, especially for those political historians who study the amazing rise of the Know Nothing party. Americans today are largely unaware of the rioting that occurred between Protestants and Irish Catholics over such items as tax money for education and which version of the bible should be utilized in public schools. What Dunne brings to this already rich history is a literary cultural approach that helps to show how Irish Catholics reacted to Protestant attacks. . . . Dunne’s ability to show the ongoing literary battle between Protestant and Irish Catholic attempts to influence their followers reveals the larger battle over cultural supremacy and acceptance . . . . Multicultural, ethnic, literary, as well as political culture scholars will all glean something from the Irish Catholic attempt to maintain their minority identity in the midst of a Jacksonian society that was bent on the maxim that ‘the majority rules.’” – Matthew Warshauer