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  • Modernity and the Renegotiation of Gendered Space:A Review Essay
  • Elizabeth Birmingham (bio)
The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s by Liz Conor. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2004, 334 pp., $24.95 paper.
Designing Women: Cinema, Art Deco, and the Female Form by Lucy Fischer. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, 285 pp., $27.50 paper.
Modernism and the Architecture of Private Life by Victoria Rosner. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005, 219 pp., $27.50 hardcover.

In fall 2003, NWSA Journal's special issue "Gender and Modernism Between the Wars, 1918–1939," Margaret McFadden noted in her editor's introduction, "Making the Modern," that at the Modernist Studies Association conference of 2003 only about 8 percent of the sessions dealt with women or gender. She draws from that evidence the conclusion that "gender questions have not yet made it to the academic mainstream of modernist studies" (ix). That same issue of the journal included the review essay, "Feminist Relocations of Gender and Modernism," by Bonnie Kime Scott. Scott reviewed seven books published from 1997 to 2001 in order to consider the intersections of gender and modernism. And since 2003, interest in modernity (and gender) has continued to fuel interdisciplinary scholarship and shape contemporary perceptions of the modern and how it was made. But despite the number of books on gender and modernity published in the past ten years, these books are underreviewed except in feminist journals like this one, suggesting that gender questions still are not making it into the mainstream of modernist studies, though modernist studies have found their way into the mainstream of feminist conversation.

The three books with which this review concerns itself share a set of preoccupations with issues of not only gender and modernity but also of space (both literal and metaphoric) as a factor shaping and defining both. Liz Conor's book, The Spectacular Modern Woman, argues that Australian women who had the power to do so—usually white women—actively cultivated modern images of themselves to present in public spaces, reshaping notions of femininity by and against the figure of the "modern appearing woman." Lucy Fischer also considers the image of the modern woman, but in Designing Women: Cinema, Art Deco, and the Female Form, she focuses instead on the stylistic and aesthetic aspects of cinematic space [End Page 201] that the modern woman displayed to the world. Both texts interpret a rich range of popular culture artifacts to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the figure of the modern woman as she was presented in public spaces. In contrast, Victoria Rosner's book, Modernism and the Architecture of Private Life, examines the artifacts of high culture—literary texts and domestic architectural spaces shaped by the design of the arts and crafts and aesthetic movements—to consider the gendered nature of the modernist developments of architectural, literary, and psychological interiority.

Recently, scholars have turned our attention to the ways in which conceptions of modernity have shaped the spaces we inhabit. Books such as Andrew Thacker's recent Moving through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism have demonstrated this interest. Following this spatial turn, other books about space and modernity have been widely reviewed, perhaps because of their interdisciplinary nature and because they discuss the ways in which the spaces of modernity reflect (and create) the spaces of our contemporary lives. For example, Emily Thompson's The Soundscape of Modernity and Edward Dimendberg's Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity both provide accessible, cross-disciplinary insight into the visual and acoustic characteristics of cinematic and architectural spaces produced by, and reflective of, modernity. Both received large numbers of favorable reviews in journals representing several disciplines.

Despite the way in which the tripartite mantra of gender, race, and class has shaped contemporary intellectual inquiry, neither Thompson's nor Dimendberg's text concerning the spaces of modernity provides insight into the ways in which the spaces shaped by and for modernity are gendered, raced, and classed. In that way, the three books in this review provide an extension of the spatial turn in modernist scholarship to include gender as a fruitful category for explanation and to offer examples of feminist reading of spaces...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2151-7371
Print ISSN
2151-7363
Pages
pp. 201-210
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-06
Open Access
No
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