Challenging Boundaries

Challenging Boundaries: Gender and Periodization

Joyce W. Warren
Margaret Dickie
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46ng73
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  • Book Info
    Challenging Boundaries
    Book Description:

    What if the American literary canon were expanded to consistently represent women writers, who do not always fit easily into genres and periods established on the basis of men's writings? How would the study of American literature benefit from this long-needed revision? This timely collection of essays by fourteen women writers breaks new ground in American literary study. Not content to rediscover and awkwardly "fit" female writers into the "white male" scheme of anthologies and college courses, editors Margaret Dickie and Joyce W. Warren question the current boundaries of literary periods, advocating a revised literary canon. The essays consider a wide range of American women writers, including Mary Rowlandson, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, Frances Harper, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Amy Lowell and Adrienne Rich, discussing how the present classification of these writers by periods affects our reading of their work. Beyond the focus of feminist challenges to American literary periodization, this volume also studies issues of a need for literary reforms considering differences in race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality. The essays are valuable and informative as individual critical studies of specific writers and their works. Challenging Boundaries presents intelligent, original, well-written, and practical arguments in support of long-awaited changes in American literary scholarship and is a milestone of feminist literary study.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4353-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. THE CHALLENGE OF WOMEN’S PERIODS
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    Joyce W. Warren

    One of the most obdurate institutional restraints in literature is its periodization. Reinforced by the needs of teaching, of criticism, and of professional specialization, established literary periods persist because they serve all of these activities. Originally created by a critical establishment that was male-dominated for a predominantly white male literary tradition and sanctioned by a chronological inevitability, such literary periods have always been fictions, but fictions with the tenacity of convenience and convention. Now, however, as the profession disentangles itself from the white male establishment, it confronts the inadequacy of the old periodization of literature. New historicists, African American specialists,...

  4. ONE CHALLENGING BOUNDARIES
    • PERFORMATIVITY AND THE REPOSITIONING OF AMERICAN LITERARY REALISM
      (pp. 3-25)
      Joyce W. Warren

      Critics who have addressed the question of literary realism have maintained that although the movement began in Europe in the mid–nineteenth century, literary realism did not develop in the United States until the end of that century.¹ In all of the essays and books on American literary realism that have been published since the term became part of our cultural vocabulary, few writers have even considered the work of mid-nineteenth-century American women writers. Feminist critics have noted realistic elements in the work of antebellum women writers,² but most critics who have written specifically on American literary realism have begun...

    • WOMEN’S MASTERPIECES
      (pp. 26-38)
      Josephine Donovan

      The distinguished historian Joan Kelly opened her classic essay by charging that “one of the tasks of women’s history is to call into question accepted schemes of periodization.” For women, she concluded, “There was no renaissance . . . —at least, not during the Renaissance.”¹ Kelly’s point was that women’s and men’s cultural histories are different. What may have been a period of growth and efflorescence for one may not have been so for the other. Similarly, ethnic and racial groups and classes have had differing histories.

      Although women may not have fully participated in the Renaissance in fourteenth- and...

    • FRANCES HARPER, CHARLOTTE FORTEN, AND AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERARY RECONSTRUCTION
      (pp. 39-61)
      Carla L. Peterson

      As literary critics, we have found the task of reconstructing Reconstruction daunting. We are still hard-pressed to account for the literary moment that lies between the American Renaissance on the one hand and American realism on the other. In his 1993 book Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America, Richard Brodhead has suggested one approach to analyzing the literature of this postwar period. According to Brodhead, postbellum culture reorganized the literary field by encouraging “new sorts of internal differentiation within the American literary system”; these distinctions reworked existing configurations of “high” and “low” cultures located on...

    • “A QUEER LOT” AND THE LESBIANS OF 1914: Amy Lowell, H.D., and Gertrude Stein
      (pp. 62-90)
      Susan McCabe

      Amy Lowell’s poem “The Sisters” searches for a matrilineage, invoking the phantom-like yet sustaining Sappho:

      I know a single slender thing about her:

      That, loving, she was like a burning birch-tree

      All tall and glittering fire, and that she wrote

      Like the same fire caught up to Heaven and held there,

      A frozen blaze before it broke and fell.¹

      Lowell further calls attention to the female poet’s eccentric position within a “man-wise” world and aligns herself with the Sapphic “fragment”:

      Taking us by and large, we’re a queer lot

      We women who write poetry. And when you think

      How few...

    • BLACK WOMEN WRITERS OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE
      (pp. 91-106)
      Crystal J. Lucky

      My commitment to the study of African American women writers of the Harlem Renaissance began more than ten years ago when I was formally introduced to the period in a graduate seminar. The course readings were taken, in part, from what has become the seminal text of the period, Alain Locke’s The New Negro. In 1925, Locke included the contributions of eight women fiction writers and essayists to support his New Negro polemic; the collection, however, contained a total of thirty-six contributors.¹ I was troubled that Locke chose to include so few women, which led me to question whether there...

    • COMPLICATIONS OF FEMINIST AND ETHNIC LITERARY THEORIES IN ASIAN AMERICAN LITERATURE
      (pp. 107-134)
      Shirley Geok-lin Lim

      Johnnella Butler notes that Women’s Studies scholars in their “task of changing the world . . . are cast with (Black Studies, Asian American Studies, Latino Studies, and American Indian Studies) with whom in many ways we are uneasy.” The tensions between Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies, according to Butler, rise from the fact that Women’s Studies scholarship, theory, and pedagogy are being radically altered by the scholarship of women of color; that Women’s Studies is being asked to be accountable also to race, class, and ethnicity; and that, compared to Ethnic Studies, “Women’s Studies is privileged because it is...

  5. TWO RE(DE)FRAMINGS
    • “AMERICAN PURITANISM” AND MARY WHITE ROWLANDSON’S NARRATIVE
      (pp. 137-158)
      Teresa A. Toulouse

      In 1977 Joan Kelly asked, “Did women have a Renaissance?” and irrevocably altered the notion of “accepted schemes of periodization.” Kelly did not discount the need for something like periodization, however. As a social historian, she viewed periods as involving “changes in the social order” which fell into a certain “causal sequence.” Thus rather than dismissing broad temporal categories such as “medieval” or “Renaissance,” she claimed that “what is more promising about the way periodization has begun to function in women’s history is that it has become relational. It relates the history of women to that of men.”¹ Kelly did...

    • ESSENTIAL, PORTABLE, MYTHICAL MARGARET FULLER
      (pp. 159-184)
      Mary Loeffelholz

      Margaret Fuller’s career and reception illuminate as strikingly, perhaps, as those of any other nineteenth-century American woman writer the gendered assumptions and strategies behind periodization in the writing of literary history. As feminist critics of the past twenty-odd years have argued, Fuller’s place in the construction of American Transcendentalism, or the “American Renaissance,” has always been strongly conditioned by her gender; she has been variously omitted, referred to in passing as a token woman or derivative mediator of the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or (in a once popular, now dated metaphor) elevated to the position of “priestess of Transcendentalism”...

    • EMILY DICKINSON IN HISTORY AND LITERARY HISTORY
      (pp. 185-201)
      Margaret Dickie

      In discussing Dickinson’s “I’m ceded —I’ve stopped being Theirs,”¹ Betsy Erkkila claims that the poet “deploys the politically charged language of secession, but the secession she imagines is not in favor of a sovereign republican self or state”; rather, she secedes into an “essentially monarchical order in which she will be ‘Queen.’”² Thus the most recent critic committed to “historicizing” our understanding of women poets concludes that Dickinson’s “revolutionary poetic practice appears to be unconnected with any real transformation of woman’s historical status as ‘object’ and ‘other’ in a system of production and exchange controlled by men” (52), and, what...

    • MARÍA AMPARO RUIZ DE BURTON NEGOTIATES AMERICAN LITERARY POLITICS AND CULTURE
      (pp. 202-225)
      Amelia María de la Luz Montes

      Of all the racial and cultural impressions people imagine of nineteenth-century Americans, it is doubtful they envision a learned Mexican American woman who writes from Washington, converses with the Lincolns, and reports on the Civil War.² Mexicans, like novelist María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, who became American after 1848 were recreated into stereotypes or dismissed as writers.³ During and after the Mexican-American War, Mexican women were described in western popular books and newspapers as loose and undisciplined while the men were portrayed as sleepy dons or drunken bandidos.⁴ Such stereotypes made it difficult for emerging Mexican American voices to establish...

    • EDITH WHARTON’S IRONIC REALISM
      (pp. 226-247)
      Carol J. Singley

      Despite her achievements, Edith Wharton’s place in literary history is far from secure.¹ Early critics considered her a minor writer, using labels such as “grande dame,” “disciple of Henry James,” and “novelist of manners” to describe her.² They neglected her roots in the nineteenth-century tradition of female domestic fiction, compared her negatively with male practitioners of realism, and virtually ignored modernist aspects of her writing, which put her in the company of a dynamic, experimental, and largely male group of writers. Critics still have difficulty placing Wharton in a single literary tradition or movement, and they often disagree on the...

    • THE “FOUNDING MOTHER”: Gertrude Stein and the Cubist Phenomenon
      (pp. 248-266)
      Jacqueline Vaught Brogan

      But they called it a “flaw.”¹ In fact, while our historical knowledge of Gertrude Stein, both as a person and as an artist, has certainly improved in recent years, and some recent critics have gone so far as to see Stein as the first modernist writer or as a quintessentially feminist writer, and now most recently as a proto-postmodernist writer, our appreciation of Stein as an individual artist as well as her place in the artistic movement she helped to inaugurate, particularly for American authors, remains deeply flawed. As Michael J. Hoffman noted in 1986, in his introduction to a...

    • THE SELF-CATEGORIZATION, SELF-CANONIZATION, AND SELF-PERIODIZATION OF ADRIENNE RICH
      (pp. 267-284)
      Sylvia Henneberg

      Since 1951, when her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, appeared, Adrienne Rich has been a constant and influential presence in the literary world. Only twice has she taken more than three years to publish a major collection of poetry or prose; more often than not, a new book has appeared within two or three years, and sometimes, as in 1976 and in 1986, two works came out in a single year. Rich has sustained this pace for almost fifty years.

      Critics unanimously agree that Rich’s style and subject matter have undergone significant changes since 1951, when, in...

  6. List of Contributors
    (pp. 285-286)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 287-296)