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Now if anybody gets this book before the hundred years dont burn it, so the young woman can have the benefit of what is intended for her. -Sarah Orne Jewett, "Diary" (1867)
Sarah Orne Jewett began a diary September 7, 1867, the week she celebrated her eighteenth birthday. As part of the entry for September 29, she invents an imaginary reader named Phebe and decides to keep a journal "with a view to your getting some improving information young woman!" In order to begin to write, Jewett first creates a relationship "a hundred years from now" with "some girl like me," and she implies that an attempt to pass along to Phebe "the benefit of what is intended for her" will ensure that no one will burn her book. Although we will not construct a "Phebe," a figure who drops out of sight early in the diaries to be replaced with the names of Jewett's real friends, the impulse to write in order to pass on what Jewett and other nineteenth-century American regionalist writers valued to readers a century later informs our own desire in writing this book. Writing out of Place begins with our sense that Jewett addresses us in her diary; that we, in a conscious use of the historical present tense, address readers who may also live a hundred years from now; and that the act of reading regionalism, then writing about our reading, involves us in a process that makes a difference in the way we "read" the culture in which we live-and, we hope, in which readers a hundred years from now will also read. In so doing we echo Willa Cather, who closed her "Preface" to The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett by predicting a "long, joyous future" for The Country of the Pointed Firs, yet located the onset of that future "in far distant years to come." She wrote: "I like to think with what pleasure, with what a sense of rich discovery, the young student of American literature in far distant years to come will take up this book and say, 'A masterpiece!' as proudly as if he himself had made it. It will be a message to the future" (11).
Introducing the Writers
In Writing out of Place we examine a collection of American literary texts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that we believe speak to readers in a variety of ways. By "locating" these texts that have seemed for so long to be "out of place" in American literary culture, we are not trying to establish regionalism as a fixed literary category, but rather to understand it as the site of a dialogical critical conversation. However the writers of these texts would have articulated their concerns had they written in forms other than sketches and fictions, it remains the case that readers now find in their work issues that have increasingly occupied our attention at the turn of our own century. Regionalist texts call into question numerous cultural assumptions about literary history, poetics, thematics, genres, and reading strategies that their authors probably would recognize and that this book in effect argues they anticipated. In addition, some of the texts also raise questions for theory that the writers might not recognize, or might pose differently. Some of these questions will involve us in discussions of epistemology, of race and class, and of queer theory. Many of the texts of regionalism contradict ideas of the "American" and of American literature that were in their formative stages after the Civil War, became crystallized in the political philosophy of the Theodore Roosevelt era, and in the twentieth century served U.S. imperialism.
From our earliest discussions about regionalism almost two decades ago, we agreed that our first goal ought to be to make the texts of regionalism available to readers. To this end, Fetterley coedited the American Women Writers series for Rutgers University Press, which has brought back into print numerous nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century writers including the regionalists Alice Cary, Rose Terry Cooke, and Mary Austin. Together we coedited American Women Regionalists, 1850-1910: A Norton Anthology, which we view as the first of a two-part effort (the second being Writing out of Place) to create a community of readers for regionalism and to generate critical conversation about a movement that American literary history has not yet made visible. As we debated our selections for American Women Regionalists, we became aware that the texts themselves "define" regionalism. We also realized that we were not trying to recover authors so much as texts. We are proposing and claiming as regionalist a certain group of prose texts by writers whose larger literary production may be at variance with the principles of regionalism they themselves demonstrate. Our interests are more critical and theoretical than they are biographical and historical; we are intrigued by the aggregate effects of regionalist materials across differences of geography, generation, race, and class.
It seems appropriate, therefore, to begin Writing out of Place by introducing the texts we have previously collected, even though we will be discussing additional texts and writers, for these texts represent the tradition we will be seeking to identify in this chapter and throughout this book. American Women Regionalists includes sketches and short fictions generally published between 1850 and 1910, with the exception of the opening sketch by Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Uncle Lot" (1834), and the closing story by Cather, "Old Mrs. Harris" (1932). As we will discuss in more detail in chapter 3, "Uncle Lot" stands as one of the preliminary texts that allow us to understand the origins of regionalism. "Uncle Lot" derives its energy, first, from its title character, thereby initiating regionalism as a fiction that privileges character over plot, and second, by engaging in a literary and critical dialogue with some of the assumptions of early American fiction as Washington Irving delineated these in "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," thereby associating regionalism with an element of critique. As we will discuss in chapter 2, Cather's "Old Mrs. Harris" serves as a postscript to the collection, marking the limits of the development of nineteenth-century regionalism. Although she dedicated her first novel, O Pioneers! to Sarah Orne Jewett as a way of recognizing her indebtedness to the older woman who had mentored her writing in the year before her own death, Cather primarily chose to write novels that engaged in other conversations than those of her regionalist predecessors. In "Old Mrs. Harris," however, written near the end of her career, she takes up the question of her relation to regionalism, writing in effect an elegy for a mode of writing and a generation of writers no longer useful for her. These two texts thus serve to frame the anthology and the tradition, even though they may not be representative of other work by Stowe and Cather.
Within this frame, we included in American Women Regionalists, in chronological order of first regional publication, texts by the following writers, only some of whose names may be familiar even to scholars of American literature: Alice Cary, Rose Terry Cooke, Celia Thaxter, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Noailles Murfree, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Grace Elizabeth King, Kate Chopin, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Sui Sin Far, Zitkala-Sa, and Mary Austin. Reading this list of names in this order raises several issues that we will begin to address in this introduction. First, there are names missing from this list that are often associated with the categories of regional writing or local-color fiction, an absence that invites us to clarify the difference between these two and to define how we are using the term "regionalism." Second, we chose to organize the anthology chronologically rather than by region, a decision that raises additional questions of how we understand the relation of region to regionalism and the relation of regionalism to place, as well as the critical problem Jewett poses for a tradition literary history has constituted as minor. Third, the anthology includes only women writers, which marks for discussion the relationship between gender and regionalism and perhaps highlights the chronological period within which these women wrote. Fourth, this list includes writers identified as racially "other," thus directing attention to how and whether race emerges as a concern within a movement defined primarily by gender as well as to whether "white" itself constitutes a racial marking in regionalism, thus requiring us to think about the relation of gender as a category of analysis to other categories of analysis such as race. Finally, in its move across the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, the list raises questions concerning how the meaning of "region" changes over time; implicates the critical study of regionalism in changing concepts of nation that, by the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, involve questions of imperialism; and invites us to reflect on contemporary manipulations of regions and regional people, especially women workers, in postcolonial variations on imperialism in our own time. Introducing regionalist texts and writers involves addressing these issues, and as we take them up in turn, we will do so primarily as they allow us to address the critical and theoretical concerns that will occupy us in Writing out of Place.
The Question of the Category
The first issue our list of regionalist writers raises concerns the category of regionalism itself. As we will discuss at length in chapter 2, historians have minimized, ignored, and disparaged these writers, either relegating them to the category of "local color" or describing them as a subset of realism by the phrase "regional realists." Our choice of the identifying term "regionalism" to refer to the tradition we wish to bring into visibility removes these writers from that subset, turns the modifier into a noun, and locates regionalism alongside realism and naturalism as a parallel tradition of narrative prose written roughly in the second half of the nineteenth century and at the turn into the twentieth (to cite a useful locution by Elizabeth Ammons in Conflicting Stories). While regionalism shares certain features of mode and subject matter with realism, it does not share the ideological underpinnings of the more familiar category. Indeed, as we will discuss in chapter 7, regionalism poses both a critique of and a resistance to the cultural ideologies that realism naturalizes. Readers may also associate the term "regionalism" with the Southern Agrarians of the 1930s who chose it in order to avoid the contentiousness of the nineteenth-century word "sectionalism" while still arguing for a Southern "regionalist" renaissance in literature. 4 While the Agrarians gave us some of our most provocative twentieth-century critics and writers, including Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, their use of the term "regionalism" bears little relation to our own, as it is based on conservative values rooted in the ownership of land and its cultivation, naturalizes physical geography to define regions, and in particular seeks to justify the South's continuing cultural and economic autonomy.
Furthermore, while those writers we have termed regionalist are often interested in features of the physical landscape, they are not nature writers; on the contrary, even Thaxter and Austin, whose work privileges the natural world, focus on the relationship between that world and human consciousness. Regions, for these writers, have boundaries, but those boundaries that separate regional from urban or metropolitan life highlight relations of ruling rooted in economic history and the material requirements for everyday livelihood rather than in physical and "natural" borders. These writers both in their fictions and in their own biographies frequently move back and forth between urban and rural/"regional" places; while cosmopolitan attitudes might assume clear barriers between the modernizing life of the cities and the presumptively premodern world of the regions, for the writers themselves and in their regionalist texts, these barriers become permeable and transitive.
Significantly, the etymology of the word "region" does not suggest any connection to "natural" or geographical boundaries. To be ruled is to be regional (the word deriving from the Latin regere); to rule is to become the king of the realm (also from regere). But he who rules is the rex, and the territory of the realm is the real (all related etymologically). Thus a region is an area ruled by a more powerful entity, earlier a king, in modern times the state or nation, and increasingly at present global economic interests. The very words "region" and "regionalism" therefore convey political relations of subordination. However, these relations are far from fixed. As Frank Davey suggests, writing within a Canadian context in which regionalism has become a political strategy as well as a literary movement, we need to re-understand regionalism in terms of institutions and processes such as the nation-state, colonialism, and globalization (1-2). Although there are intriguing differences between regionalism as it operates politically in Canada and in the United States, the theoretical analysis that emerges from Davey's examination of present-day regional politics in Canada articulates the dynamics of the tensions between local color and regionalism that we wish to explore. Indeed, Davey's complex understanding of regionalism helps explain the marginalization of those particular regional texts that make visible rather than conceal the presence of ideology.
Davey argues that it is the role of the critic to denaturalize what it means to claim a regionalist identity, either for someone who inhabits a specific geography or for a literary text that takes place within an identifiable region. "Far from being a geographical manifestation, a regionalism is a discourse.... As a discourse, it represents a general social or political strategy for resisting meanings generated by others in a nation-state, particularly those generated in geographic areas which can be constructed by the regionalism as central or powerful" (4). Davey makes a distinction here between regionalism as a political strategy of resistance and regionalism as a commodity production of the nation-state that serves its political interests while pretending to be nonideological. For example, the idea of geographical determinism, used to contain the development of regional and transregional political power, "is popularly concealed beneath touristic images of landscape and inarticulately authentic individuals," and so "there appears to be no ideology" in such representations (5).
Excerpted from Writing out of Place by JUDITH FETTERLEY MARJORIE PRYSE Copyright © 2003 by Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse. Excerpted by permission.
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|2||Locating regionalism in American literary history||34|
|3||Origins : the history of an impulse||66|
|4||The poetics of empathic narration||105|
|5||"Free to say" : thematics||135|
|6||The sketch form and conventions of story||169|
|7||Regionalism and the question of the American||214|
|8||Feminist epistemology and the regionalist standpoint||248|
|9||Race, class, and questions of region||280|
|10||Regionalism as "queer" theory||315|
|11||"Close" reading and empathy||339|