The Leisure Ethic: Work and Play in American Literature, 1840-1940

Overview


At the turn of the last century, as routinized industrial labor made a mockery of the gospel of work, Americans increasingly sought fulfillment not on the job but in their leisure activities. This book explores the multiple and, at times, contradictory tensions surrounding this turn to play and examines their impact on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American literature. Arguing that American writers participated in the ongoing debates over labor and leisure more strenuously than is commonly understood, ...
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Overview


At the turn of the last century, as routinized industrial labor made a mockery of the gospel of work, Americans increasingly sought fulfillment not on the job but in their leisure activities. This book explores the multiple and, at times, contradictory tensions surrounding this turn to play and examines their impact on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American literature. Arguing that American writers participated in the ongoing debates over labor and leisure more strenuously than is commonly understood, the author shows how literary narratives both responded to and helped shape the emerging gospel of play.

Richly grounded in social, political, and economic history, this book demonstrates the ways that discussions of leisure engaged the most pressing issues of the age: immigration, women's rights, public health, race relations, mass culture, and perhaps most important, the nature and meaning of work itself. Where turn-of-the-century recreation reformers envisioned play as the revivifying alternative to modern labor's assault on the self, American writers from Henry David Thoreau to Zora Neale Hurston found that vision too deeply indebted to the very system it sought to repair. The fatal flaw of play theory, these writers insisted, was its commitment to an ideology of fair play and teamwork drawn not from the spirit of the playground but from the production- and profit-minded ethos of corporate capitalism.

Broad in scope and method, and structured by a series of original and illuminating pairings of texts and authors—including Thoreau and Mark Twain, Abraham Cahan and Ole Rölvaag, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Edna Ferber, James Weldon Johnson and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser and Richard Wright, and William Faulkner and Hurston—this book offers an important new direction for the study of labor, leisure, and representation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804733991
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 468
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


William A. Gleason is Assistant Professor of English at Princeton University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. I Escape, Evasion, Ambivalence
1 Re-Creating Walden: Thoreau's Economy of Work and Play 27
2 Old Ways, New Ways: Anxiety and Identity in Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi 57
Pt. II Alternative Articulations
3 Frontier Fairy Tales: Cahan, Rolvaag, and the Resistance to Play Progressivism 99
4 "Find Their Place and Fall in Line": The Revisioning of Women's Work in Herland and Emma McChesney & Co 152
Pt. III Whose Golden Age?
5 "An Ideal Body to Be Lived Up To": Play, Display, and the Self in The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and The Great Gatsby 211
6 Public Space, Private Lives: Recreation and Re-Creation in An American Tragedy and Native Son 259
7 Southern Counterpoint: Bodily Control and the "Problem" of Leisure in Sanctuary and Their Eyes Were Watching God 304
Afterword 346
Notes 355
Bibliography 413
Index 435
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