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Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962
The Everyman and the Suburban Novel after 9/11
Memory, Identity, Family, Space
American literature is no longer the refuge of the solitary hero. Like the society it mirrors, it is now a far richer, many-faceted explication of a complicated and diverse society -- racially, culturally, and ethnically interwoven and at the same time fractured and fractious.
Ten women writing fiction in America today -- Toni Cade Bambara, Joan Didion, Louise Erdrich, Gail Godwin, Mary Gordon, Alison Lurie, Joyce Carol Oates, Jayne Anne Phillips, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, and Mary Lee Settle -- represent that geographic, ethnic, and racial diversity that is distinctively American. Their differing perspectives on literature and the American experience have produced Erdrich's stolid North Dakota plainswomen; Didion's sun-baked dreamers and screamers; the urban ethnics -- Irish, Jewish, and black -- of Gordon, Schaeffer, and Bambara; Oates's small-town, often violent, neurotics; Lurie's intellectual sophisticates; and the southern survivors and victims, male and female, of Phillips, Settle, and Godwin.
The ten original essays in this collection focus on the traditional themes of identity, memory, family, and enclosure that pervade the fiction of these writers. The fictional women who emerge here, as these critics show, are often caught in the interwoven strands of memory, perceive literal and emotional space as entrapping, find identity elusive and frustrating, and experience the interweaving of silence, solitude, and family in complex patterns.
Each essay in this collection is followed by bibliographies of works by and about the writer in question that will be invaluable resources for scholars and general readers alike. Here is a readable critical discussion of ten important contemporary novelists who have broadened the pages of American literature to reflect more clearly the people we are.
“I have read all of Daniel Aaron’s books, and admired them, but in The Americanist I believe he has composed an intellectual and social memoir for which he will be remembered. His self-portrait is marked by personal tact and admirable restraint: he is and is not its subject. The Americanist is a vision of otherness: literary and academic friends and acquaintances, here and abroad. Eloquently phrased and free of nostalgia, it catches a lost world that yet engendered much of our own.” —Harold Bloom “The Americanist is the absorbing intellectual autobiography of Daniel Aaron, who is the leading proponent and practitioner of American Studies. Written with grace and wit, it skillfully blends Daniel Aaron’s personal story with the history of the field he has done so much to create. This is a first-rate book by a first-rate scholar.” —David Herbert Donald, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University The Americanist is author and critic Daniel Aaron’s anthem to nearly a century of public and private life in America and abroad. Aaron, who is widely regarded as one of the founders of American Studies, graduated from the University of Michigan, received his Ph.D. from Harvard, and taught for over three decades each at Smith College and Harvard. Aaron writes with unsentimental nostalgia about his childhood in Los Angeles and Chicago and his later academic career, which took him around the globe, often in the role of America’s accidental yet impartial critic. When Walt Whitman, whom Aaron frequently cites as a touchstone, wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” he could have been describing Daniel Aaron—the consummate erudite and Renaissance individual whose allegiance to the truth always outweighs mere partisan loyalty. Not only should Aaron’s book stand as a resplendent and summative work from one of the finest thinkers of the last hundred years, it also succeeds on its own as a first-rate piece of literature, on a par with the writings of any of its subjects. The Americanist is a veritable Who’s Who of twentieth-century writers Aaron interviewed, interacted with, or otherwise encountered throughout his life: Ralph Ellison, Robert Frost, Lillian Hellman, Richard Hofstadter, Alfred Kazin, Sinclair Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Crowe Ransom, Upton Sinclair, Edmund Wilson, Leonard Woolf, and W. B. Yeats, to name only a few. Aaron’s frank and personal observations of these literary lights make for lively reading. As well, scattered throughout The Americanist are illuminating portraits of American presidents living and passed—miniature masterworks of astute political observation that offer dazzlingly fresh approaches to well-trod subjects.
Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation
Drawing on a wide array of literary, historical, and theoretical sources, Rachel Lee addresses current debates on the relationship among Asian American ethnic identity, national belonging, globalization, and gender. Lee argues that scholars have traditionally placed undue emphasis on ethnic-based political commitments--whether these are construed as national or global--in their readings of Asian American texts. This has constrained the intelligibility of stories that are focused less on ethnicity than on kinship, family dynamics, eroticism, and gender roles. In response, Lee makes a case for a reconceptualized Asian American criticism that centrally features gender and sexuality.
Through a critical analysis of select literary texts--novels by Carlos Bulosan, Gish Jen, Jessica Hagedorn, and Karen Yamashita--Lee probes the specific ways in which some Asian American authors have steered around ethnic themes with alternative tales circulating around gender and sexual identity. Lee makes it clear that what has been missing from current debates has been an analysis of the complex ways in which gender mediates questions of both national belonging and international migration. From anti-miscegenation legislation in the early twentieth century to poststructuralist theories of language to Third World feminist theory to critical studies of global cultural and economic flows, The Americas of Asian American Literature takes up pressing cultural and literary questions and points to a new direction in literary criticism.
Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone
Iyunolu Folayan Osagie is a native of Sierra Leone, from where the Amistad's cargo of slaves originated. She digs deeply into the Amistad story to show the historical and contemporary relevance of the incident and its subsequent trials. At the same time, she shows how the incident has contributed to the construction of national and cultural identity both in Africa and the African diasporo in America--though in intriguingly different ways.
This pioneering work of comparative African and American cultural criticism shows how creative arts have both confirmed and fostered the significance of the Amistad revolt in contemporary racial discourse and in the collective memories of both countries.
Modern American Literature and the Dual-Sexed Body Politic
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.
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.