"Keeping up her geography": Women's writing and geocultural space in early twentieth-century United States literature and culture


I argue that the current trend in U.S. studies to move beyond the public-private dichotomy is based on a reductive understanding of that binary as primarily a manifestation of separate spheres ideology. Recently, literary critics and historians have argued that to use the language of separate spheres is to mistake fiction for reality. However, there is a tendency in this criticism to ignore the work of feminist political theorists who argue that a range of ideologies of public and private consistently work to mask the gendered inequalities of public policy. I claim that these inequalities are shaped by multiple, but interconnected, spatial constructions of the public and private in U.S. culture, and that emerging and intersecting (re) definitions of key spatial concepts---the nation, the urban, the regional, and the domestic---in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century provide a crucial context for understanding how the public-private binary has been constructed and contested. In chapter one, I focus on how women speakers at the World's Columbian Exposition negotiated their liminal position at the Exposition. Their understanding of the public-private binary is more complex than has been acknowledged and offers theorists new ways of understanding why the genderedness of the public-private binary. In chapter two, I show how middle-class women's anxieties about urbanization's transformation of the domestic leads to their contestation of the home-work divide that maintains the working-girl's social and economic inequality and isolates the middle-class woman. In chapter three, I argue that Ellen Glasgow challenges the southern agrarians' construction of the public-private binary by revealing its dependence on the female body and female labor. In chapter four, I contend that Zora Neale Hurston and Agnes Smedley negotiate the public-private binary by appropriating the frontier as a model of citizenship. This appropriation, however, becomes disenabling when they try to articulate the difference that the female body makes to citizenship

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DSpace at Rice University

Last time updated on 11/06/2012

This paper was published in DSpace at Rice University.

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