Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941

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In this revisionary study, Barbara Foley challenges prevalent myths about left-wing culture in the Depression-era U.S. Focusing on a broad range of proletarian novels and little-known archival material, the author recaptures an important literature and rewrites a segment of American cultural history long obscured and distorted by the anti-Communist bias of contemporaries and critics.
Josephine Herbst, William Attaway, Jack Conroy, Thomas Bell and Tillie Olsen, are among the radical writers whose work Foley reexamines. Her fresh approach to the U.S. radicals' debates over experimentalism, the relation of art to propaganda, and the nature of proletarian literature recasts the relation of writers to the organized left. Her grasp of the left's positions on the "Negro question" and the "woman question" enables a nuanced analysis of the relation of class to race and gender in the proletarian novel. Moreover, examining the articulation of political doctrine in different novelistic modes, Foley develops a model for discussing the interplay between politics and literary conventions and genres.
Radical Representations recovers a literature of theoretical and artistic value meriting renewed attention form those interested in American literature, American studies, the U. S. left, and cultural studies generally.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Foley succeeds admirably in demonstrating that the proletarian novel is indeed worth reexamining from a variety of points of view as an essential way in which we may understand the American 1930s more accurately. This is a really important book in its field, a field wide enough to include not only literature, but history and politics."—Walter Rideout, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"[Foley] substantially refutes the received wisdom that writers within the Communist Party and its periphery produced a degraded, politically compromised body of work because they followed a formula dictated from the party leadership. I cannot imagine anyone interested in politics and literature not taking this book as required reading. It will also be of great interest to American Studies, Cultural Studies and historians and sociologists of culture."—Stanley Aronowitz, CUNY Graduate Center

Using the term "U.S. proletarian fiction" to refer to "novels written in the ambience of the Communist-led cultural movements that arose and developed in the United States in the context of the Great Depression," Foley (English, Rutgers U.) both rescues proletarian literature from undeserved neglect and also subjects it to a politically rigorous and historically informed critique. Her principal interest is not in detailed readings of individual texts, but in the larger claims that can be made about politics and representational strategy in proletarian fiction. Paper edition (unseen), $19.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822313946
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/1993
  • Series: Post-Contemporary Interventions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 484
  • Product dimensions: 5.85 (w) x 8.31 (h) x 1.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Foley is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark Campus.

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Table of Contents

1 The Legacy of Anti-Communism 3
2 Influences on American Proletarian Literature 44
3 Defining Proletarian Literature 86
4 Art or Propaganda? 129
5 Race, Class, and the "Negro Question" 170
6 Women and the Left in the 1930s 213
7 Realism and Didacticism in Proletarian Fiction 249
8 The Proletarian Fictional Autobiography 284
9 The Proletarian Bildungsroman 321
10 The Proletarian Social Novel 362
11 The Collective Novel 398
Afterword 443
Index 447
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