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Regional Fictions

Culture and Identity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Stephanie Foote

Publication Year: 2001

Out of many, one—e pluribus unum—is the motto of the American nation, and it sums up neatly the paradox that Stephanie Foote so deftly identifies in Regional Fictions. Regionalism, the genre that ostensibly challenges or offers an alternative to nationalism, in fact characterizes and perhaps even defines the American sense of nationhood.
    In particular, Foote argues that the colorful local characters, dialects, and accents that marked regionalist novels and short stories of the late nineteenth century were key to the genre’s conversion of seemingly dangerous political differences—such as those posed by disaffected Midwestern farmers or recalcitrant foreign nationals—into appealing cultural differences. She asserts that many of the most treasured beliefs about the value of local identities still held in the United States today are traceable to the discourses of this regional fiction, and she illustrates her contentions with insightful examinations of the work of  Sarah Orne Jewett, Hamlin Garland, Gertrude Atherton, George Washington Cable, Jacob Riis, and others. Broadening the definitions of regional writing and its imaginative territory, Regional Fictions moves beyond literary criticism to comment on the ideology of national, local, ethnic, and racial identity.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v

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pp. vi

Many people read this book as I was writing it. Kenneth Dauber, Neil Schmitz, Roy Roussel, William Patrick Day, and Sandra Zagarell read all or part of the manuscript in its earliest stages and helped me imagine it as a book. My colleagues at the University of Illinois have been remarkably generous with their time. I would particularly like to thank Nina Baym, Leon Chai, Bruce Michelson, Cary Nelson, and Robert Dale Parker. I also ...

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Introduction: What Difference Does Regional Writing Make?

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pp. 3-16

Regional Fictions studies the late nineteenth century through regional fiction, one of its most important but most short-lived literary forms.1 Regional fiction is best remembered today for its nostalgic portraits of preindustrial rural communities and people. Although regional texts focused almost exclusively on rural concerns, their nostalgic tone shows them to have been profoundly shaped by an awareness of the globalizing ...

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1. “I Feared to Find Myself a Foreigner”: Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs

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pp. 17-37

There is a kind of justice in the current critical rediscovery of nineteenth-century American regional fiction. Traditional critiques of regional writing tend to feminize and diminish this “minor” genre, appreciating its aesthetic dimensions while noting its childish, although perhaps charming, inability to come to terms with its contemporary conditions of mature capitalism, urban unrest, and expanding immigration and imperialism. ...

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2. The Region of the Repressed and the Return of the Region: Hamlin Garland and Harold Frederic

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pp. 38-72

As I argued in my first chapter, pastoral regionalism, like Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, constructs regional folk as figures of a receding past. By narrating the distance between reader and regional figure as temporal, regional writing can posit the spatially distant region as “ahistorical” and outside the time of industrial development. The regional folk themselves become the standard of, rather than participants in, ...

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3. The History of a Historyless People: Gertrude Atherton’s The Californians

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pp. 73-97

Gertrude Atherton’s 1898 novel The Californians is set near San Francisco in the late nineteenth century. It charts the progress of a serious young woman in San Francisco’s upper class and culminates in her marriage to a world-weary easterner who has come to California for personal regeneration. Its plot is, as one critic wrote in an otherwise positive review, “not notably novel.” After a short summary of the book’s various ...

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4. “The Shadow of the Ethiopian”: George Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes

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pp. 98-123

This rueful confession comes during the tentative beginnings of a friendship between Honoré Grandissime and Joseph Frowenfeld, two of the major characters in George Washington Cable’s 1880 novel of 1803 New Orleans (1988:151). While the two men seem to like each other well enough personally, their immediate, if shy, goodwill is complicated by the ...

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5. Disorienting Regionalism: Jacob Riis, the City, and the Chinese Question

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pp. 124-153

In the first two sections of this book, I argued against the critical consensus that pastoral regionalism turns away from the social problems attending capital and imperial expansion. My readings assert that the genre of regional writing helped make sense of these problems by narrating figures of cultural difference as potential participants in national culture. In this ...

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6. Representation and Tammany Hall: Locating the Body Politic

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pp. 154-182

In chapter 5, I examined how Jacob Riis’s use of the rhetorical tactics of regional fiction allowed him to present New York’s “other half” in manageable, governable sections. Riis’s project of partitioning the inchoate urban mass into identifiable ethnic groups meant that he could read them according to a cultural script that already accounted for their “natural” ...


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pp. 183-197

Works Cited

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pp. 198-205


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pp. 206-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780299171131
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299171148

Publication Year: 2001