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Androgynous Democracy

Modern American Literature and the Dual-Sexed Body Politic

Aaron Shaheen

Publication Year: 2010

Androgynous Democracy examines how the notions of gender equality propounded by transcendentalists and other nineteenth-century writers were further developed and complicated by the rise of literary modernism. Aaron Shaheen specifically investigates the ways in which intellectual discussions of androgyny, once detached from earlier gonadal-based models, were used by various American authors to formulate their own paradigms of democratic national cohesion. Indeed, Henry James, Frank Norris, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, John Crowe Ransom, Grace Lumpkin, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Marita Bonner all expressed a deep fascination with androgyny—an interest that bore directly on their thoughts about some of the most prominent issues America confronted as it moved into the first decades of the twentieth century. Shaheen not only considers the work of each of these seven writers individually, but he also reveals the interconnectedness of their ideas. He shows that Henry James used the concept of androgyny to make sense of the discord between the North and the South in the years immediately following the Civil War, while Norris and Gilman used it to formulate a new model of citizenship in the wake of America’s industrial ascendancy. The author next explores the uses Ransom and Lumpkin made of androgyny in assessing the threat of radicalism once the Great Depression had weakened the country’s faith in both capitalism and religious fundamentalism. Finally, he looks at how androgyny was instrumental in the discussions of racial uplift and urban migration generated by Du Bois and Bonner. Thoroughly documented, this engrossing volume will be a valuable resource in the fields of American literary criticism, feminism and gender theory, queer theory, and politics and nationalism.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The task of thanking everyone who contributed to this book is indeed daunting. The fear of unintentionally leaving someone out makes me reluctant to name anyone at all. Despite such perils, I want to begin by expressing my deepest gratitude to those closest to me. My wife Amanda has been a part of this project from the beginning; ...

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Introduction: "Who Need Be Afraid of the Merge?"

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pp. 1-16

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one of the first great works to detail the culture and government of the young republic, suggests how the specter of androgyny has long resonated at the level of national representation. Though remaining optimistic about the nation’s general prospects, the book reveals a certain anxiety ...

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1. "The Social Dusk of That Mysterious Democracy": Race, Sexology, and the Modern Woman in Henry James's Postbellum America

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pp. 17-46

The American transcendentalists who rose to prominence in the antebellum period regarded androgyny as the spiritual result of a nation dedicated to egalitarian democratic principles. These notions were short-lived, however, as the Civil War and the disastrous Reconstruction that followed made any true national union seem like a distant, if not impossible, reality. The disillusionment with the romantic period in ...

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2. Commercial Androgyny: Reformulating the Modern Liberal Subject in Frank Norris and Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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pp. 47-78

Though by the first decade of the twentieth century Henry James found his own way to reconcile romantic notions of androgyny with postbellum demands for a new model of national cohesion, his proposal for a transcendental vox Americana did little if nothing to address the material reality of the citizens—the New Woman or anyone else—who would literally embody that voice. Evolutionary and sexological ...

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3. Reactionary and Radical Androgyny: Two Southerners Assess the Depression-Era Body Politic

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pp. 79-110

Frank Norris and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as we have seen in the previous chapter, were heavily involved in reformulating the paradigm of the modern American liberal subject in ways that took evolutionary science’s understanding of androgyny into account. For Norris especially, androgynous atavism could explain the strength and global reach of the United States’ economy in the first decade of the twentieth century. Despite her belief that Anglo-Saxon evolution would one day leave behind ...

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4. Race, Gender, and Democratic Space in W. E. B. Du Bois and Marita Bonner

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pp. 111-136

Historian Elizabeth Reis has observed that “[t]he unnerving possibility that individuals could suddenly change sex paralleled the early national preoccupation with race, racial categories, and the possibility of changing racial identity.”1 Reis offers the example of one Levi Suydam, a property-holding African American from Salisbury, Connecticut, whose crucial vote in an 1843 local election put the Whig candidate in ...

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Epilogue: Androgyny, Fascism, and Beyond

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pp. 137-144

I began this study with Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America feared that the interest in androgyny that had spread across the Atlantic Ocean from postrevolutionary France might possibly create “weak men and disorderly women” out of the young republic’s male and female citizens. Democracy itself, implied the Frenchman, seemed to hang in the balance. Despite these fears, Tocqueville held out hope that ...


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pp. 145-162


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pp. 163-174


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pp. 175-183

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337114
E-ISBN-10: 1572337117
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572336865
Print-ISBN-10: 1572336862

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 0 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010