“The path she had chosen”: mobility in works by American women regionalists from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Erin Wedehase (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Karen Kilcup

Abstract: Mobility studies provides the lens through which this dissertation reexamines contemporary and historical critical assumptions about the genre of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century regionalism. Scholars such as Hamlin Garland, Richard Brodhead, and Amy Kaplan argue that this literature idealizes backwards, homogeneous, and culturally sluggish spaces. Through the analysis of regional characters' mobility in works by Sarah Orne Jewett, Helen Hunt Jackson, Sarah Barnwell Elliott, and Sui Sin Far, I make three major claims that refute this critical history. First, I demonstrate how studying mobility in these texts illuminates the authors' interest in social reform. Critics such as Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse argue that regionalist writing critiques social injustices by inviting privileged readers to sympathize with marginalized groups. Specifically, regional texts decrease the emotional distance between local subjects and readers by humanizing the former. Rather than reading regional figures as passive recipients of readers' pity, I argue that these characters deploy mobility to remove themselves from unjust situations, thus themselves becoming agents of social change. Additionally, I foreground how the characters' movements bring new cultures into towns, mobilize existing cultures, and destabilize geographic boundaries, thus making regional spaces more about progress and cultural fluidity than about demographic, spatial, and temporal fixity. Finally, my project builds on the concept of the global region, arguing that these writers use mobility to show how characters can simultaneously maintain local identities invested in reforming their communities while they evince an increasingly global worldview. "The Path She Had Chosen" first examines Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs; here I illustrate how the narrator's mobility bonds her with the local community. Continually altering her impression of the region, these social interactions establish Dunnet Landing as a heterogeneous space with permeable geographic boundaries. While Jewett's novel depicts how mobility unites communities, Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona reveals how movement generates agency for marginalized groups. Ramona's many relocations call for Native sovereignty, while her eventual immigration to Mexico creates a transnational identity that resists regionalist literature's ostensible confinement of individuals within particular localities. Chapter four turns to Sarah Barnwell Elliott's The Durket Sperret, arguing that the heroine's movements throughout her Appalachian community undermine myths about the region's uniform poverty and instead expose a diverse class system that subverts critical assumptions about regionalist literature's tendency to champion cultural homogeneity and to secure economic and social boundaries. Finally, I demonstrate that Sui Sin Far's Mrs. Spring Fragrance further evidences how regionalism maps demographic heterogeneity and cultural multiplicity; the characters' localized movement creates complex cultural identities that a sinophobic America repudiated. All four writers reject assumptions about regionalist literature's emphasis on nostalgia, geographic fixity, and cultural authenticity, as they highlight how characters' mobility connects them with local cultures and concurrently enables them to become world citizens.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2014
Local Color, Mobility, Regionalism, Women Writers
American literature $x Women authors $x History and criticism
American literature $x Women authors $y 19th century
American literature $x Women authors $y 20th century
Regionalism in literature
Travel in literature

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