“Country Life Within City Reach”: Masculine Domesticity in Suburban America, 1819-1871 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
Creator
  • D'Amore, Maura
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Abstract
  • In Country Life Within City Reach, I explore the process by which text-fueled reveries of clerks transformed the terrain surrounding New York, Boston, and Philadelphia from rural townships into commuter suburbs over the course of the nineteenth century. As railroad networks expanded and young men found themselves physically and socially confined in small offices and rented garrets, books and periodicals offered escape. Contrasting industrialization, overcrowding, disease, and expense with the restorative effects of the natural environment on body and mind, authors, editors, architects, and reformers urged men to leave their work behind in the city at the end of each day. In park-like suburban settings, they could defend the boundaries of personhood against feelings of urban anonymity and powerlessness through domestic flourishes and activities that bespoke individual dreams and aspirations. Brooklyn, Hoboken, Chestnut Hill, Concord, and a host of other suburban towns ballooned in the 1850s and 1860s, as middle-class men constructed houses and communities from plans outlined in periodicals, pattern books, novels, and domestic treatises. While prominent female domestic reformers such as Lydia Maria Child, Catharine Beecher, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and Harriet Beecher Stowe preached the virtues of labor and sympathy, viewing leisure with suspicion and allowing it only in the service of a greater good such as healthful exercise or community building, writers such as Washington Irving, Donald Grant Mitchell, Nathaniel Parker Willis, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Barry Coffin, and William Dean Howells cultivated a masculine domesticity of self-nurture in suburban environments as an antidote to the malaise of urban life and the strictures of feminine self-sacrifice. Representations of country life within city reach established the groundwork for popular conceptions of suburban domestic life that remain with us today.
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  • In Copyright
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  • Gura, Philip F.
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