Crafting Radical Fictions: Late-Nineteenth Century American Literary Regionalism and Arts and Crafts Ideals

Author/s: Rosalie Roberts, PhD
Availability: Open Access
Type: Dissertation
Year: 2015
Category: Technology
Institution: University of Oregon

Abstract: This dissertation demonstrates that Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), Mary Hunter Austin’s The Land of Little Rain (1906), Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899), and Mary Wilkins Freemans The Portion of Labor (1903) exemplify the radical politics and aesthetics that late nineteenth-century literary regionalism shares with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Despite considerable feminist critical accomplishments, scholarship on regionalism has yet to relate its rural folkways, feminine aesthetics, and anti-urban stance to similar ideals in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Jewett, Austin, Chopin, and Freeman all depict the challenges of the regional woman artist in order to oppose the uniformity and conventionality of urban modernity. They were not alone in engaging these concerns: they shared these interests with period feminists, sexual radicals, and advocates of the Arts and Crafts Movement like John Ruskin and William Morris, all of whom deeply questioned industrial capitalism and modernization. Jewett, Austin, Chopin, and Freeman envisioned women’s Arts and Crafts communities that appealed to readers through narratives that detailed the potential uniqueness of homemade decorative arts and other aspects of women’s material culture. For Arts and Crafts advocates and regionalists, handcrafted goods made using local folk methods and natural materials fulfilled what they saw as the aesthetic requirements for artistic self-definition: The Country of the Pointed Firs and The Land of Little Rain embrace the destabilizing effect queer and feminist characters have on a presumably heterosexual domestic environment, and they formally resist the narrative structures of industrial modernity, emphasizing the Arts and Crafts ideal union between woman artist, natural environment, and communal bonds. The Awakening and The Portion of Labor expose the suffocating impact of industrial capitalism and sexism on women artists who strive for connection with their local environments and communities and cannot achieve their creative goals. I prove that all four texts do more than simply interpret regionalism through the Arts and Crafts Movement as a means to launch their critiques of industrial modernity, they transform the meaning of regionalist Arts and Crafts aesthetics and politics in late nineteenth-century American literature.

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