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Poor White Women in Southern Literature of the Great Depression
In The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress, Ashley Craig Lancaster examines how converging political and cultural movements helped to create dualistic images of southern poor white female characters in Depression-era literature. While other studies address the familial and labor issues that challenged female literary characters during the 1930s, Lancaster focuses on how the evolving eugenics movement reinforced the dichotomy of altruistic maternal figures and destructive sexual deviants. According to Lancaster, these binary stereotypes became a new analogy for hope and despair in America’s future and were well utilized by Depression-era politicians and authors to stabilize the country’s economic decline. As a result, the complexity of women’s lives was often overlooked in favor of stock characters incapable of individuality. Lancaster studies a variety of works, including those by male authors William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, and John Steinbeck, as well as female novelists Mary Heaton Vorse, Myra Page, Grace Lumpkin, and Olive Tilford Dargan. She identifies female stereotypes in classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and in the work of later writers Dorothy Allison and Rick Bragg, who embrace and share in a poor white background. The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress reveals that these literary stereotypes continue to influence not only society’s perception of poor white southern women but also women’s perception of themselves.
Literary Traces of Eugene O'Neill and Agnes Boulton
An engrossing biography about the marital breakdown of a major literary figure, of particular interest for what it reveals about O'Neill's creative process, activities, and bohemian lifestyle at the time of his early successes and some of his most interesting experimental work. In addition, King's discussion of Boulton's efforts as a writer of pulp fiction in the early part of the 20th century reveals an interesting side of popular fiction writing at that time, and gives insight into the lifestyle of the liberated woman. ---Stephen Wilmer, Trinity College, Dublin Biographers of American playwright Eugene O'Neill have been quick to label his marriage to actress Carlotta Monterey as the defining relationship of his illustrious career. But in doing so, they overlook the woman whom Monterey replaced---Agnes Boulton, O'Neill's wife of over a decade and mother to two of his children. O'Neill and Boulton were wed in 1918---a time when she was a successful pulp novelist and he was still a little-known writer of one-act plays. During the decade of their marriage, he gained fame as a Broadway dramatist who rejected commercial compromise, while she mapped that contentious territory known as the literary marriage. His writing reflected her, and hers reflected him, as they tried to realize progressive ideas about what a marriage should be. But after O'Neill left the marriage, he and new love Carlotta Monterey worked diligently to put Boulton out of sight and mind---and most O'Neill biographers have been quick to follow suit. William Davies King has brought Agnes Boulton to light again, providing new perspectives on America's foremost dramatist, the dynamics of a literary marriage, and the story of a woman struggling to define herself in the early twentieth century. King shows how the configuration of O'Neill and Boulton's marriage helps unlock many of O'Neill's plays. Drawing on more than sixty of Boulton's published and unpublished writings, including her 1958 memoir, Part of a Long Story, and an extensive correspondence, King rescues Boulton from literary oblivion while offering the most radical revisionary reading of the work of Eugene O'Neill in a generation. William Davies King is Professor of Theater at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of several books, most recently Collections of Nothing, chosen by Amazon.com as one of the Best Books of 2008. Illustration: Eugene O'Neill, Shane O'Neill, and Agnes Boulton ca. 1923. Eugene O'Neill Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Maritime Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century America
In the antebellum years, the Western world’s symbolic realities were expanded and challenged as merchant, military, and scientific activity moved into Pacific and Arctic waters. In Antebellum at Sea, Jason Berger explores the roles that early nineteenth-century maritime narratives played in conceptualizing economic and social transitions in the developing global market system and what these chronicles disclose about an era marked by immense change.
Focusing on the work of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville, Berger enhances our understanding of how the nineteenth century negotiated its own tenuous progress by portraying how a wide range of maritime stories lays bare disturbing experiences of the new. Berger draws on Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian notion of fantasy in order to reconsider the complex way maritime accounts operated in the political landscape of antebellum America, examining topics such as the function of maritime labor know-how within a transformation of scientific knowledge, anxiety produced by conflict between gender-specific and culture-specific forms of enjoyment, and how legal practices illuminate troubling juridical paradoxes at the heart of Polk-era political life.
Addressing the ideas of the antebellum age from unexpected and revealing perspectives, Berger calls on the conception of fantasy to consider how antebellum maritime literature disputes conventional views of American history, literature, and national identity.
Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s
Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants: Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s, by Jon Woodson, uses social philology to unveil social discourse, self fashioning, and debates in poems gathered from anthologies, magazines, newspapers, and individual collections. The first chapter examines three long poems, finding overarching jeremiadic discourse that inaugurated a militant, politically aware agent. Chapter two examines self-fashioning in the numerous sonnets that responded to the new media of radio, newsreels, movies, and photo-magazines. The third chapter shows how new subjectivities were generated by poetry addressed to the threat of race war in which the white race was exterminated. The black intellectuals who dominated the interpretative discourses of the 1930s fostered exteriority, while black culture as a whole plunged into interiority. Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants delineates the struggle between these inner and outer worlds, a study made difficult by a contemporary intellectual culture which recoils from a belief in a consistent, integrated self.
Judgment, Cataclysm, and Resistance in the Regional Imaginary
While John Winthrop might have famously uttered the phrase “city upon a hill” on the way to Massachusetts, the strands of millennialism and exceptionalism that remain so central to U.S. political discourse are now dominated by eschatological visions that have emerged from the particular historical experiences of the U.S. South. Despite the strategic exploitation of this reality by political communicators, scholars in the humanities have paid little attention to the eschatological visions offered by southern religious culture. Fortunately, writers and artists have not ignored such matters; compared to their academic counterparts, southern novelists have been far better attuned to a southern apocalyptic imaginary—a field of reference, drawn from the cosmology of southern evangelical Protestantism, that maps the apocalyptic possibilities of cataclysm, judgment, deliverance, and even revolution onto the landscape of the region. Apocalypse South rectifies the omissions in existing scholarship by interrogating the role of apocalyptic discourse in selected works of fiction by four southern writers—William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Randall Kenan, and Dorothy Allison. In doing so, it reinvigorates discussions of religion in southern literary scholarship and introduces a new element in the ongoing investigation into how regional identities function in notions of national mission and American exceptionalism. Engaging concerns of religion, race, sexuality, and community in fiction from the 1930s to the present, Apocalypse South offers a new conceptual framework for considering what has long been considered “southern Gothic literature”—a framework less concerned with the conventions of a particular literary genre than with the ways in which literature exposes and even tries to make sense of the contradictions within cultures.
American Writers in the Age of Development
An Anthology of Contemporary Stories and Poetry
Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America
Apples and Ashes offers the first literary history of the Civil War South. The product of extensive archival research, it tells an expansive story about a nation struggling to write itself into existence. Confederate literature was in intimate conversation with other contemporary literary cultures, especially those of the United States and Britain. Thus, Coleman Hutchison argues, it has profound implications for our understanding of American literary nationalism and the relationship between literature and nationalism more broadly.
Apples and Ashes is organized by genre, with each chapter using a single text or a small set of texts to limn a broader aspect of Confederate literary culture. Hutchison discusses an understudied and diverse archive of literary texts including the literary criticism of Edgar Allan Poe; southern responses to Uncle Tom’s Cabin; the novels of Augusta Jane Evans; Confederate popular poetry; the de facto Confederate national anthem, “Dixie”; and several postwar southern memoirs. In addition to emphasizing the centrality of slavery to the Confederate literary imagination, the book also considers a series of novel topics: the reprinting of European novels in the Confederate South, including Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables; Confederate propaganda in Europe; and postwar Confederate emigration to Latin America.
In discussing literary criticism, fiction, poetry, popular song, and memoir, Apples and Ashes reminds us of Confederate literature’s once-great expectations. Before their defeat and abjection—before apples turned to ashes in their mouths—many Confederates thought they were in the process of creating a nation and a national literature that would endure.
Literature and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century
American historians have typically argued that a shared experience of time worked to bind the antebellum nation together. Trains, technology, and expanding market forces catapulted the United States into the future on a straight line of progressive time. The nation's exceedingly diverse population could cluster around this common temporality as one forward-looking people.
In a bold revision of this narrative, Archives of American Time examines American literature's figures and forms to disclose the competing temporalities that in fact defined the antebellum period. Through discussions that link literature's essential qualities to social theories of modernity, Lloyd Pratt asserts that the competition between these varied temporalities forestalled the consolidation of national and racial identity. Paying close attention to the relationship between literary genre and theories of nationalism, race, and regionalism, Archives of American Time shows how the fine details of literary genres tell against the notion that they helped to create national, racial, or regional communities. Its chapters focus on images of invasive forms of print culture, the American historical romance, African American life writing, and Southwestern humor. Each in turn revises our sense of how these images and genres work in such a way as to reconnect them to a broad literary and social history of modernity. At precisely the moment when American authors began self-consciously to quest after a future in which national and racial identity would reign triumphant over all, their writing turned out to restructure time in a way that began foreclosing on that particular future.
Plantations, Personhood, and Colonialism in the American Tropics
What happens if we abandon the assumption that a person is a discrete, world-making agent who acts on and creates place? This, Monique Allewaert contends, is precisely what occurred on eighteenth-century American plantations, where labor practices and ecological particularities threatened the literal and conceptual boundaries that separated persons from the natural world.
Integrating political philosophy and ecocriticism with literary analysis, Ariel’s Ecology explores the forms of personhood that developed out of New World plantations, from Georgia and Florida through Jamaica to Haiti and extending into colonial metropoles such as Philadelphia. Allewaert’s examination of the writings of naturalists, novelists, and poets; the oral stories of Africans in the diaspora; and Afro-American fetish artifacts shows that persons in American plantation spaces were pulled into a web of environmental stresses, ranging from humidity to the demand for sugar. This in turn gave rise to modes of personhood explicitly attuned to human beings’ interrelation with nonhuman forces in a process we might call ecological.
Certainly the possibility that colonial life revokes human agency haunts works from Shakespeare’s Tempest and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws to Spivak’s theories of subalternity. In Allewaert’s interpretation, the transformation of colonial subjectivity into ecological personhood is not a nightmare; it is, rather, a mode of existence until now only glimmering in Che Guevara’s dictum that postcolonial resistance is synonymous with “perfect knowledge of the ground.”