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From the Modernist Annex

American Women Writers in Museums and Libraries

Written by Karin Roffman

Publication Year: 2010


In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of women were forced to seek their education outside the walls of American universities. Many turned to museums and libraries, for their own enlightenment, for formal education, and also for their careers. In Roffman’s close readings of four modernist writers—Edith Wharton, Nella Larsen, Marianne Moore, and Ruth Benedict—she studied the that modernist women writers were simultaneously critical of and shaped by these institutions.
From the Modernist Annex offers new and critically significant ways of understanding these writers and their texts, the distribution of knowledge, and the complicated place of women in modernist institutions.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This is a project about women writers in museums and libraries that was built very much out of the discoveries those archives make possible. I am very grateful for a grant from the Lilly Library at Indiana University, which allowed me to work with the library’s Edith Wharton papers. Two grants from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the essential guidance of Patricia Willis and Nancy Kuhl were crucial in developing the Wharton, Larsen, and Moore chapters. I want to...


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pp. xiii-xiii

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pp. 1-13

No literary episode better reveals the distinct attitude of the women writers chronicled in this book than the following negative example. In the opening scene of Henry James’s The American (1876) Christopher Newman lounges at the Louvre...

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1. Women and the Mutual Development of Museums and Libraries

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pp. 14-26

Museums and libraries share a history as places whose related processes of institutionalization and professionalization profoundly shaped the early twentieth-century intellectual woman. Although today libraries and museums conduct different kinds of cultural work, they developed as public institutions in part by observing each other and recognizing that they shared many of the same goals. Libraries...

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2. Museums and Memory in Edith Wharton’s Modern Novels

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pp. 27-66

Edith Wharton’s analysis of her experience reading James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), which she details in a letter—like Virginia Woolf ’s similarly negative journal entry about the book—has been used by critics to illustrate how out of touch she had become with modern writing after 1920. Although Wharton later published The Writing of Fiction (1924), which traces...

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3. Nella Larsen, Librarian at 135th Street

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pp. 67-102

Nella Larsen’s work as a librarian was a catalyst in her rethinking of social issues, particularly her concerns about how systems of classification work to inhibit the creation of new categories of thinking. From 1921 until 1929, while pursuing a writing career, Larsen worked full-or part-time primarily at the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library (fig. 4)...

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4. Accidents Happen in Marianne Moore’s Native Habitat

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pp. 103-142

Elizabeth Bishop’s “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore” (1948) imagines Marianne Moore in her native habitat—museums and libraries. This vision of Moore ascending the steps of the New York Public Library or gliding past an austere museum entrance fits her persona as a poet at home in the rich cultural life of the city...

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5. Finding Freedom from Museums and Libraries in Ruth Benedict’s Poetry

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pp. 143-181

For Marianne Moore, becoming a modernist poet involved a process of enthusiastically embracing and learning from the opportunities and even annoyances that New York City museums and libraries afforded her; for Ruth Benedict, becoming a modernist poet involved initially exploring but later turning her back on those very same experiences. For Moore the best record of her attachment to those spaces is her creation of an ideal museum...

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pp. 182-190

On September 19, 2003, the New York Times reminded readers that museums and libraries, as well as the artifacts and books they house, “are the very things we count on to remember for us.” Such an observation betrays a post-- 9/11 anxiety, a newspaper worrying that if we do not allow our institutions to preserve and “remember for us,” we—or our culture, our things—might disappear. As I have written this book...


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pp. 191-232


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pp. 233-246


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pp. 247-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383961
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817316983

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 680620792
MUSE Marc Record: Download for From the Modernist Annex

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Subject Headings

  • Larsen, Nella.
  • Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937.
  • Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972.
  • Museums in literature.
  • Libraries -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women authors, American.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Libraries in literature.
  • Libraries and women -- United States -- History.
  • Museums and women -- United States -- History.
  • Museums -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Benedict, Ruth, 1887-1948.
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