Abstract

Contributing to the current effort to rethink American realism, this essay concentrates on the work of second-generation realist novelists both well known (Dreiser, Wharton) and forgotten (Robert Grant, Robert Herrick, and Booth Tarkington). I argue that, during the first two decades of the twentieth century, American novelists did for fiction what their contemporaries, the pragmatists, did for philosophy: they reconceive the modern subject for a new modernity. Like the philosophical tradition of the previous two centuries, earlier realist fiction understood the liberal individual as the exemplary modern subject. However, in an age characterized by “the regress of self-sufficiency and the progress of association,” as one contemporary economist had it, liberal individualism’s stock dropped among a number of thinkers—artists and academics alike. As the essay demonstrates the way in which novelists participate in this culturewide effort to transform realism and redefine modern subjectivity in the US, it also challenges the received relationship between women and consumption. To overturn the standard view that consumption was largely a solipsistic activity in women, I show the ways in which this body of fiction, together with pragmatist writings, exposes the thoroughgoing sociality of consumer culture.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1512
Print ISSN
0039-3827
Pages
pp. 493-517
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-01
Open Access
No
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