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A Man's Game

Masculinity and the Anti-Aesthetics of American Literary Naturalism

Written by John Dudley

Publication Year: 2004

Demonstrates how concepts of masculinity shaped the aesthetic foundations of literary naturalism. A Man's Game explores the development of American literary naturalism as it relates to definitions of manhood in many of the movement's key texts and the aesthetic goals of writers such as Stephen Crane, Jack London, Frank Norris, Edith Wharton, Charles Chestnutt, and James Weldon Johnson. John Dudley argues that in the climate of the late 19th century, when these authors were penning their major works, literary endeavors were widely viewed as frivolous, the work of ladies for ladies, who comprised the vast majority of the dependable reading public. Male writers such as Crane and Norris defined themselves and their work in contrast to this perception of literature. Women like Wharton, on the other hand, wrote out of a skeptical or hostile reaction to the expectations of them as woman writers. Dudley explores a number of social, historical, and cultural developments that catalyzed the masculine impulse underlying literary naturalism: the rise of spectator sports and masculine athleticism; the professional role of the journalist, adopted by many male writers, allowing them to camouflage their primary role as artist; and post-Darwinian interest in the sexual component of natural selection. A Man's Game also explores the surprising adoption of a masculine literary naturalism by African-American writers at the beginning of the 20th century, a strategy, despite naturalism's emphasis on heredity and genetic determinism, that helped define the black struggle for racial equality. John Dudley is Assistant Professor of English at the University of South Dakota.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-18

In 1904, one year before the publication of The House of Mirth would establish her as a commercially successful novelist, Edith Wharton published a volume of short fiction, The Descent of Man and Other Stories. The book’s title story tells of a dedicated entomologist, Professor Samuel Linyard, who,quite by accident, becomes the best-selling author of a pseudoscientific monograph...

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1. Inside and Outside the Ring: The Establishment of a Masculinist Aesthetic Sensibility

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pp. 19-54

The emergence of spectator sports at the end of the nineteenth century—as commercial enterprise, masculine performance, and nascent profession—offers a paradigmatic lens through which to understand the artistic ethos of those writers commonly adjoined under the rubric of American literary naturalism. ...

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2. “Subtle Brotherhood” in Stephen Crane’s Tales of Adventure: Alienation, Anxiety, and the Rites of Manhood

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pp. 55-86

If, as Edwin Cady suggests, “the trope basic to Crane’s vision was that of the game” (103), then the stories collected in volume 5 of the University of Virginia edition of Stephen Crane’s works offer the most comprehensive view of the author’s foremost artistic device. The recurrence of games and the rules of sportsmanship throughout these stories helps link them thematically...

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3. “Beauty Unmans Me”: Diminished Manhood and the Leisure Class in Norris and Wharton

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pp. 87-137

In a 1927 essay entitled “The Great American Novel,” published during the height of her fame and fortune as an author, Edith Wharton elevates Frank Norris’s McTeague, David Graham Phillips’s Susan Lenox, and Robert Grant’s Unleavened Bread to the status of “not only ‘great American novels,’ but great novels” (Uncollected Critical Writings 152–53). ...

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4. “A Man Only in Form”: The Roots of Naturalism in African American Literature

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pp. 138-173

“How does it feel to be a problem?” This is the question posed by W. E. B. Du Bois near the beginning of The Souls of Black Folk (1). Writing at the turn of the twentieth century, Du Bois addresses the conditions of African Americans at the point known among historians as the “nadir” of American race relations,1 the period following the collapse of Reconstruction noted for the strict codification of Jim Crow segregation...

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pp. 174-178

An enlightening contrast to the lynching scene in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and an evocative complement to the aesthetic argument behind James Weldon Johnson’s narrative can be found in a short story by Theodore Dreiser entitled “Nigger Jeff.” As the grating title makes clear, this story concerns the “making of a man into less than a man,”...


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pp. 179-204


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pp. 205-216


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pp. 217-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381820
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817313470

Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 320324076
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Man's Game

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Subject Headings

  • African American men in literature.
  • Masculinity in literature.
  • Aesthetics, American.
  • African American men -- Intellectual life.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Naturalism in literature.
  • American fiction -- Male authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Men in literature.
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