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248Reviews mostly forgotten Williard Wright. Largely for financial reasons, Wright went from distinction-granting (and distinction-withholding) editor of the Smart Set, where he was notable for his cultural snobbery, to creator of a lucrative series of mass-market novels featuring amateur detective Philo Vance. In 1929, Wright published an autobiographical essay with the wonderful title, "I Used to Be a Highbrow but Look at Me Now." My only cavil with The Novel Art concerns McGurl's tendency to make a straw-man of Howellsian realism, which he contrasts with the modernist art-novel as "neither intentionally or interestingly" engaged in producing distinctions of cultural status among the white middle- class Americans who constituted its potential readership (10). Yet many ofthe same dynamics that McGurl finds in modernist fiction are already visible even in Howells's own writing. Albeit perhaps less aggressively than the late James or a text like The Sound and the Fury, Howells's reviews and fiction frequently seek to develop hierarchical distinctions among different middle-class modes of perceiving such "pastoral" material as, for instance , rural dialects of American English or New York City's obdurate class differences. An objection to McGurl's treatment of American realism is of limited importance, however, next to the significant and substantive achievement represented by his book, which has greatly enriched at least this reviewer's understanding of modernist fiction and its social meanings. University of Texas at AustinPhillip Barrish Berg, Allison. Mothering the Race: Women 's Narratives of Reproduction, 1890-1930. Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2002. 186 pp. Cloth: $35. Located at the intersections among literary criticism, race theory, and feminist scholarship on motherhood, Allison Berg's Mothering the Race explores the literary conceptions of motherhood that have marked its significance as a site of cultural (re)production. Through a series of tightly focused textual readings, Berg traces the fictional representation ofmaternal identity from the "race mother" ofthe Reconstruction Era, to the New Woman and New Negro Mother of the Jazz Age. Importantly, this study offers a specifically integrated analysis of African American and native white women's writing. Thus, as Berg suggests, it is these "explicit and extensive cross-racial dialogues" that enable us to question the "apparently natural relationship between female biology and racial destiny, challenging traditional ideas about gender, sexuality, race and motherhood" (5-6). Berg's central thesis contends that the body of literature explored in her study resists simple definition as the textual reproduction ofthe act Studies in American Fiction249 of mothering. Instead, Berg argues that this intertextual, interracial discourse has the potential to effectively re-write dominant ideologies of motherhood that have systematically reconstructed the maternal sphere as a politically inflected and racially determined social institution. The success ofthis critical position is due in large part to Berg's rigorous and highly imaginative selection of literary texts. Berg reads Pauline Hopkins's rhetoric ofredemptive motherhood and racial uplift against turn of the century Darwinist accounts of "True Womanhood" and prevailing notions of maternity as a white racial imperative. To this extent, Berg suggests that Hopkins's Contending Forces (1900) begins to collapse the prescribed binary opposition between the "white 'true' mother and the black 'race' mother" (33). In contrast, the possibilities for an emergent maternal agency elaborated by Hopkins's writing are violently disallowed in the focal narratives of Berg's succeeding chapter. Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899) and Edith Wharton's Summer (1917) are positioned here as texts in which motherhood is necessarily "lethal to female subjectivity " (10), and where the potency of the New Woman's sexual awakening "proves illusory because sex leads inevitably to maternity, which is associated with linguistic paralysis, physical confinement, and death" (10). In the final two chapters, Berg juxtaposes Edith Summers Kelley's Weeds (1923) and Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928) to further an account of female artistic ambition frustrated by the degradation of "an endless cycle of childbearing" (103). This reading works to counter the persistent cultural assumption that the "supposedly liberated Jazz Age" (10), during which period these novels were written, encouraged and even enabled a program of sexual and racial emancipation; it is the nature of this false perception...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 248-250
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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