The Home Front Revisited: Visions of Union from Professional Women Writers of the American North, 1859-1877 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Foley, Vera
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This project reintroduces a series of recently recovered women authors of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. These women, I argue, form a print community whose fiction uses tropes of domestic disorder in order to reimagine the home not as rigidly hierarchical but as malleable to the needs of the women who inhabit it. Significantly, the Civil War seems to be a creative asset rather than an impediment to such revisionist fiction. While wives and daughters remained, often sans patriarch, on the home front, their perception of the shape of the American family and the institutions that undergirded it transformed. This print community of women authors narrated versions of that changed perception through its novels and short stories. Exploring this alternative vision of the American family at home reveals a literary reimagining of the terms of feminine domesticity, the depth and scope of which have not yet been fully acknowledged by scholars of literature or history. “The Home Front Revisited” presents for the first time a network of literary and ideological connections between Lillie Devereux Blake, Elizabeth Stoddard, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Louisa May Alcott, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Historically, their works have been read as responses to more famous male voices, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne or Edgar Allan Poe. I, however, reintroduce them not as faded counterparts to canonical men but as members of a vibrant intellectual community of their own. To demonstrate the complexity of their developing visions of the American gender hierarchy, I posit a new series of thematic categories that highlight these women authors’ shared concerns and responses to one another: (1) courtship conventions on the marriage market, (2) hierarchies of influence within the household, (3) gendered lines of inheritance, (4) the rhetoric of domestic slavery, and (5) women’s potential to act as wage-earners in the public sphere. Such critical contexts reveal the limitations of relying exclusively upon political suffragist rhetoric to represent nineteenth-century women’s visions of how the family structure might be productively transformed.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Richards, Eliza
  • Marr, Timothy
  • Kasson, Joy
  • Thrailkill, Jane
  • Gura, Philip F.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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