- Fiction:1900 to the 1930s
This year's scholarship focuses on women authors working in genres traditionally associated with male authors, including westerns, naturalism, and noir. Genres formerly considered marginal or lowbrow, such as popular/mass market, detective, pulp, and weird fiction, receive increased scholarly attention, with a reevaluation of both aesthetics and cultural context. Texts about individual authors include an MLA volume on teaching Nella Larsen, a collection of critical essays on H. P. Lovecraft, a history of Jack London and his London publishers, an edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder's letters, and a study of the influence of World War I on Raymond Chandler's writing.
Among the most interesting recent scholarship on naturalism is Donna M. Campbell's Bitter Tastes: Literary Naturalism and Early Cinema in American Women's Writing (Georgia). Campbell pairs naturalist fiction with silent film because both evolved at the same time, with film rendering visually "the sort of authenticity promised by naturalism." She discusses the many women writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who wrote in an "unruly" naturalistic style and who tended to feature more social protest, mysticism, sentimentalism, and high-class characters than did male authors. Many of these writers focused on how women were victimized by violence and how their situations were embodied, often through metaphors of waste. The texts discussed range [End Page 227] from the grim realism of Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mills and Edith Wharton's Darwinist The Fruit of the Tree to Mary Austin's bohemian No. 26 Jayne Street and Edith Summers Kelley's rural naturalism in Weeds. Campbell's well-researched book includes a discussion of silent films based on naturalist texts and those that had similar themes such as white slavery, eugenics, and prostitution.
In "Literary Proto-Humans: Cognition and Evolution in London's Before Adam and Golding's The Inheritors" (OL 71: 215–39) Marco Caracciolo explores "literary figurations of prehistoric mentalities and their interpretive ramifications" through Jack London's and William Golding's novels. The cognitive specificity of London's protagonist is portrayed negatively, while Golding provides a more balanced approach between archaic and modern mentalities. Matthew Taylor's "At Land's End: Novel Spaces and the Limits of Planetarity" (Novel 49: 115–38) considers speculative fiction about global problems by H. G. Wells and London. Although violence in these works is often associated with global solutions, there are fleeting moments in London's socialist fiction that offer nonapocalyptic alternatives to surviving global crises, including the general strike in The Iron Heel that leads to soldiers refusing to fight.
Joseph McAleer's Call of the Atlantic: Jack London's Publishing Odyssey Overseas, 1902–1916 (Oxford) examines London's experiences in building an overseas market for his books, finally finding a publisher who could help him build his brand. Written from a historian's perspective, Call of the Atlantic is a publishing history that draws heavily on London's correspondence and his relationships with his agent Hughes Massie and his British publishers, Mills and Boon and George Newnes.
John Dale's "Coming to Terms with the Murderer: Explanatory Mechanisms and Narrative Strategies in Three American Novels with Transgressive Protagonists" (CRevAS 46: 295–310) compares two naturalist novels to James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. In Frank Norris's McTeague the title character is controlled by hereditary forces and murders because of specific provocations, while in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy Clyde Griffiths commits murder in order to acquire social status. In Cain's novel, on the other hand, Frank kills on impulse, not for a reason, a character quirk that becomes more common in late-20th-century novels. [End Page 228]
ii High Modernism
High modernist studies scholars once again find Gertrude Stein most fascinating. Stein is paired with Djuna Barnes, Richard Bruce Nugent, Frank O'Hara, and John Ashbery in Brian Glavey's The Wallflower Avant-Garde: Modernism, Sexuality, and Queer Ekphrasis (Oxford). Glavey contends that the modernist aesthetic is queerer than critics have imagined and that one can read gender and sexuality as ekphrastic illusions. He discusses Stein's literary portraiture as "first inciting and...