Nineteenth-Century American Women's Novels: Interpretative Strategies

Overview

This study proposes interpretive strategies for nineteenth-century American women's novels. Harris contends that women in the nineteenth century read subversively, 'processing texts according to gender based imperatives'. Beginning with Susannah Rowson's best-selling seduction novel Charlotte Temple (1791), and ending with Willa Cather's O Pioneers! (1913), Harris scans white, middle-class women's writing throughout the nineteenth century. In the process she both explores reading behaviour and formulates a ...

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Overview

This study proposes interpretive strategies for nineteenth-century American women's novels. Harris contends that women in the nineteenth century read subversively, 'processing texts according to gender based imperatives'. Beginning with Susannah Rowson's best-selling seduction novel Charlotte Temple (1791), and ending with Willa Cather's O Pioneers! (1913), Harris scans white, middle-class women's writing throughout the nineteenth century. In the process she both explores reading behaviour and formulates a literary history for mainstream nineteenth-century American women's fiction. Through most of the twentieth century, women's novels of the earlier period have been denigrated as conventional, sentimental, and overwritten. Harris shows that these conditions are actually narrative strategies, rooted in cultural imperatives and, paradoxically, integral to the later development of women's texts that call for women's independence. Working with actual women's diaries and letters, Harris first shows what contemporary women sought from the books they read. She then applies these reading strategies to the most popular novels of the period, proving that even the most apparently retrograde demonstrate their heroines' abilities to create and control areas culturally defined as male.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments; Part I. Introduction: Part II. Narrative Designs and Textual Rebellions: 1. Preludes: the early didactic novel: Narrative control in Charlotte Temple and A New-England Tale; 2. Introduction to the exploratory text: subversions of the narrative design in St Elmo; 3. Decoding the exploratory text: subversions of the narrative design in Queechy; Part III. Narrative Rebellions and Textual Designs: 4. Inscribing and defining: the many voices of Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall; 5. Extending and subverting: the iconography of houses in The Deserted Wife; 6. Projecting the 'I'/conoclast: first-person narration in The Morgesons; Part IV. The Later Didactic Novel: 7. Narrative control and thematic radicalism in work and The Silent Partner; Part V. Conclusions and Implications: 8. Anomalies and anxieties: The Story of Avis, A Country Doctor, The Awakening, O Pioneers!; Notes; General index Index to diaries, letters and reviews; Index to literary and historical references.

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