Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > "News that stays news": Transformations of Literature, Gossip, and Community in Modernity
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Recent decades have demonstrated a renewed interest in gossip research from scholars in psychology, sociology, and anthropology who argue that gossip—despite its popular reputation as trivial, superficial “women’s talk”—actually serves crucial social and political functions such as establishing codes of conduct and managing reputations. My dissertation draws from and builds upon this contemporary interdisciplinary scholarship by demonstrating how the modernists incorporated and transformed the popular gossip of mass culture into literature, imbuing it with a new power and purpose. The foundational assumption of my dissertation is that as the nature of community changed at the turn of the twentieth century, so too did gossip. Although usually considered to be a socially conservative force that serves to keep social outliers in line, I argue that modernist writers transformed gossip into a potent, revolutionary tool with which modern individuals could advance and promote the progressive ideologies of social, political, and artistic movements. Ultimately, the gossip of key American expatriates (Henry James, Djuna Barnes, Janet Flanner, and Ezra Pound) became a mode of exchanging and redefining creative and critical values for the artists and critics who would follow them. From abroad, moreover, these writers examined various definitions of “Americanness,” and much of their work contributed to Americans’ increasing sense of self-awareness and self-confidence on the international stage. How is modernism the product of gossip? What does the relationship between literature and gossip illuminate for us about the experience of community and nationhood in modernity? Can literature itself be considered gossip? Just as importantly: can criticism? These are the questions that propel me through the project.