“You have waked me all up”: New Women’s reformist utopian novels of the Progressive Era

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Alicia Matheny Beeson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Maria Sánchez

Abstract: This dissertation examines women utopian authors of the Progressive Era who depict New Women protagonists awakening to new possibilities for their work, marriages, and domestic responsibilities; these protagonists model the process for other female characters and by extension the novels’ readers. The texts I address in this dissertation are utopian because the female protagonists revise systems of labor, marriage, childcare, domesticity, and racial relations to improve women’s status and to ameliorate society. However, unlike many utopian texts, they do not present an alternative time or location with a revolutionized world, but rather a revised contemporary society, which I term a reformist utopia. While these works reinstate many of the same traditionally patriarchal and capitalist systems, the novels’ tempered radicalism can persuade a wider range of readers about their utopian visions. The New Women’s narratives of reformist utopias frequently begin with the protagonists’ newfound yearning to make money, an unconventional desire for many middle and upper-class women who more often participated in charitable labor. The novels highlight the benefits of women’s profitable work by showcasing its positive impact on individual women and the community. This entry into work could thwart romantic relationships, especially because so many men opposed this pursuit. However, the novels suggest that mutually supportive companionate partnerships fostered women’s autonomy, including their decision to continue wage-earning work after marriage. Although the pervasive racism of the period complicated matters for black women, black authors addressed this oppression by creating localized utopias removed from institutionalized racism. Managing domestic work and childcare while working for wages seemed particularly challenging for women authors to imagine in their contemporary culture, causing them to creating societies outside of the United States that lessen women’s work in the private sphere and enable their development in the public sphere. By demonstrating the potentially transformative consequences of women’s actions, these authors seek to wake up and empower their readers to work for self and community betterment.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Heroine, New Woman, Progressive Era, Utopia
Heroines in literature
Utopias in literature
American literature $y 19th century $x History and criticism
American literature $y 20th century $x History and criticism
Women in literature
African American women in literature

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