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Vanishing Moments

Class and American Literature

Eric Schocket

Publication Year: 2006

Vanishing Moments analyzes how various American authors have reified class through their writing, from the first influx of industrialism in the 1850s to the end of the Great Depression in the early 1940s. Eric Schocket uses this history to document America’s long engagement with the problem of class stratification and demonstrates how deeply America’s desire to deny the presence of class has marked even its most labor-conscious cultural texts. Schocket offers careful readings of works by Herman Melville, Rebecca Harding Davis, William Dean Howells, Jack London, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Muriel Rukeyser, and Langston Hughes, among others, and explores how these authors worked to try to heal the rift between the classes. He considers the challenges writers faced before the Civil War in developing a language of class amidst the predominant concerns about race and slavery; how early literary realists dealt with the threat of class insurrection; how writers at the turn of the century attempted to span the divide between the classes by going undercover as workers; how early modernists used working-class characters and idioms to shape their aesthetic experiments; and how leftists in the 1930s struggled to develop an adequate model to connect class and literature. Vanishing Moments’ unique combination of a broad historical scope and in-depth readings makes it an essential book for scholars and students of American literature and culture, as well as for political scientists, economists, and humanists. Eric Schocket is Associate Professor of American Literature at Hampshire College. “An important book containing many brilliant arguments—hard-hitting and original. Schocket demonstrates a sophisticated acquaintance with issues within the working-class studies movement.” --Barbara Foley, Rutgers University

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Class : Culture


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1. The Veil and the Vision: Reading Class in American Literature

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pp. 1-33

At a climactic moment in Margret Howth, Rebecca Harding Davis’s remarkable first novel, Dr. Knowles—mill owner, Fourierite socialist, and man of science—gives Margret Howth “a glimpse of the under-life of America.”¹ “I want to show you something,” he begins, “a bit of hell: outskirt. You’re in a fit state: it’ll do you good. . . . It’s time you knew your...

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2. “Discovering Some New Race”: “Life in the Iron Mills,” Whiteness, and the Genesis of the American Labor Narrative

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pp. 34-65

This letter, which is commonly cited in critical studies of Davis’s work, is usually read through the lens of feminism. A young and relatively little published writer, Davis seems at once “playful,” as Sharon Harris argues, and deferential, foreshadowing her later willingness to fit her critical vision into Field’s limited appetite for gritty social realism. Yet, written...

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3. Voices of Insurgency: Strikes, Speech, and Social Realism

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pp. 66-104

In the twenty-third chapter of his best-selling study How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis changes his rhetorical strategy. The preceding chapters have been largely documentary, using descriptions, illustrations, and photographs to represent the degradations wrought by poverty on the various inhabitants of the New York tenements. Working toward his...

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4. Middle-Class Melancholy and Proletarian Pain: The Writer as Class Transvestite

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pp. 105-142

On a rainy winter night in the depression year of 1894, Stephen Crane “went forth” dressed in “rags and tatters . . . to try to eat as a tramp may eat, and sleep as the wanderers sleep.” His experiences in New York City’s Bowery Mission that night provided the basis for his sketch “An Experiment in Misery,” which confronted readers of the...

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5. Modernism and the Aesthetics of Management: T. S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein Write Labor Literature

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pp. 143-197

When the Armory Show opened in New York on February 15, 1913, it was the first major presentation of postimpressionist art in the United States and thus rapidly came to represent what J. M. Mancini describes as the “moment at which the ‘new’ vanquished the ‘old’ in American culture with a single and stunning revolutionary blow...

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6. The Fetish of Being Inside: Proletarian Texts and Working-Class Bodies

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pp. 198-255

In the winter of 1939, as the chaotic decade of the Great Depression wound to a close, Philip Rahv, onetime Communist Party member and coeditor of the recently disaffiliated Partisan Review, declared the proletarian literature movement a dead entity. Born out of an unnatural coupling of aesthetics and politics, nurtured through its infancy by...


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pp. 257-284


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pp. 285-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025701
E-ISBN-10: 0472025708
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472031870
Print-ISBN-10: 0472031872

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 3 B&W photographs, 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Class : Culture
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OCLC Number: 593240150
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Vanishing Moments

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Working class in literature.
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