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Entitled to the Pedestal

Place, Race, and Progress in White Southern Women's Writing,1920-1945

Nghana tamu Lewis

Publication Year: 2007

In this searching study, Nghana Lewis offers a close reading of the works and private correspondences, essays, and lectures of five southern white women writers: Julia Peterkin, Gwen Bristow, Caroline Gordon, Willa Cather, and Lillian Smith. At the core of this work is a sophisticated reexamination of the myth of southern white womanhood.
    Lewis overturns the conventional argument that white women were passive and pedestal-bound. Instead, she argues that these figures were complicit in the day-to-day dynamics of power and authorship and stood to gain much from these arrangements at the expense of others.
    At the same time that her examination of southern mythology explodes received wisdom, it is also a journey of self-discovery. As Lewis writes in her preface, “As a proud daughter of the South, I have always been acutely aware of the region’s rich cultural heritage, folks, and foodstuffs. How could I not be? I was born and reared in Lafayette, Louisiana, where an infant’s first words are not ‘da-da’ and ‘ma-ma’ but ‘crawfish boil’ and ‘fais-do-do.’ . . . I have also always been keenly familiar with its volatile history.” Where these conflicting images—and specifically the role of white southern women as catalysts, vindicators, abettors, and antagonists—meet forms the crux of this study. As such, this study of the South by a daughter of the South offers a distinctive perspective that illuminates the texts in novel and provocative ways.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

CONTENTS

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pp. v-

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PREFACE

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pp. vii-xii

This book is about the cultural work of five modern southern women writers: Julia Peterkin (1880–1961), Gwen Bristow (1903–1980), Caroline Gordon (1895–1981), Willa Cather (1873–1947), and Lillian Smith (1897– 1966). It centers on the specific resonating impact of their engagement with the myth of White Southern Womanhood and the Plantation Mythology...

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. xiii-xiv

The dedicated and experienced sta≠ at the University of Iowa Press facilitated the timely production of this book. Thanks, especially, to Joseph Parsons, Charlotte Wright, and Holly Carver for your acuity in knowing what was needed to make this the best book possible....

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1. THE LADIES AND THE MYTHS: White Southern Women’s Writing

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pp. 1-21

Richard Greenberg opens his entirely male-cast Tony Award–winning play Take Me Out with Kippy, the narrator, progressing through the sequence of proximate causes in the above quote, which, Kippy concludes, leads to core events at issue in the play. I am reminded of this witty opening...

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2. A WHITE BLACK WRITER: Julia Mood Peterkin

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pp. 22-54

There is confusion over why On a Plantation,1 one of a handful of Julia Peterkin’s fiction focused through a white character, was never published. Susan Williams claims that Peterkin ambitiously sought to publish the would-be novel, submitting revisions of it to H. L. Mencken even after he advised her to abandon the project, because, as Williams maintains,...

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3. A CERTAIN MENTAL ABERRATION: Gwen Bristow

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pp. 55-107

The Handsome Road, the second novel of Gwen Bristow’s Plantation Trilogy, from which the lyrics above are taken, was released after Gone with the Wind (1936) and addressed the same period in southern history as Margaret Mitchell’s widely celebrated book. The reception forecast for the novel, thus, initially appeared rather...

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4. SHE’LL TAKE HER STAND: Caroline Gordon

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pp. 108-136

“A Visit to the Grove” (1972) is one of several autobiographical essays Gordon wrote toward the latter part of her literary career, in which she elaborates on the interrelations among her childhood, maturation, and craftsmanship. At the outset of this essay, Gordon draws from Samuel Coleridge’s definition of fancy as a “mode of memory emancipated from...

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5. PAVING THE WAY: Willa Cather and Lillian Smith

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pp. 137-164

Willa Cather and Lillian Smith are two modern southern women writers who have never been read in juxtaposition with one another, probably because of what Terry Eagleton has termed the “disabling idea of aesthetic autonomy,” that is, the notion that true (literary) writers write in isolation of their political influences (9). Until quite recently, this theory...

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6. NEW BEGINNINGS: Old Sites of Authority

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pp. 165-171

During my years of graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, I discovered the seed of my contention with critical assessments of white southern women’s writing that has resulted in this book. At about that time, I also discovered A Different World (1987–1993),...

NOTES

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pp. 173-185

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 187-201

INDEX

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pp. 203-208


E-ISBN-13: 9781587297328
E-ISBN-10: 1587297329
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295294
Print-ISBN-10: 1587295296

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- White authors -- History and criticism.
  • Race in literature.
  • Women, White in literature.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
  • Women and literature -- Southern States -- History -- 20th century.
  • American literature -- Southern States -- History and criticism
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
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