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Beyond the Gibson Girl

Beyond the Gibson Girl: Reimagining the American New Woman, 1895-1915

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Beyond the Gibson Girl
    Book Description:

    Challenging monolithic images of the New Woman as white, well-educated, and politically progressive, this study focuses on important regional, ethnic, and sociopolitical differences in the use of the New Woman trope at the turn of the twentieth century. Using Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girls" as a point of departure, Martha H. Patterson explores how writers such as Pauline Hopkins, Margaret Murray Washington, Sui Sin Far, Mary Johnston, Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, and Willa Cather challenged and redeployed the New Woman image in light of other "new" conceptions: the "New Negro Woman," the "New Ethics," the "New South," and the "New China."_x000B__x000B_As she appears in these writers' works, the New Woman both promises and threatens to effect sociopolitical change as a consumer, an instigator of evolutionary and economic development, and, for writers of color, an icon of successful assimilation into dominant Anglo-American culture. Examining a diverse array of cultural products, Patterson shows how the seemingly celebratory term of the New Woman becomes a trope not only of progressive reform, consumer power, transgressive femininity, modern energy, and modern cure, but also of racial and ethnic taxonomies, social Darwinist struggle, imperialist ambition, assimilationist pressures, and modern decay.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09210-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-26)

    Christened in 1894 during a debate between Sarah Grand and Ouida in theNorth American Review, the New Woman immediately inspired censure and applause on both sides of the Atlantic. Within the dominant white press, she was either what her detractors called an unattractive, browbeating usurper of traditionally masculine roles, or she was what her champions proclaimed an independent, college-educated, American girl devoted to suffrage, progressive reform, and sexual freedom. While the New Woman debate is most often constructed as just such a dramatic dichotomy—a new revolution overthrowing old ideas—such oppositional rhetoric provides only a cursory understanding of...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Selling the American New Woman as Gibson Girl
    (pp. 27-49)

    Single, white, affluent, politically and socially progressive, highly educated, and athletic, the dominant version of the New Woman was a liminal figure between the Victorian woman and the flapper, a “pioneer [of] new roles” able to “insist upon a rightful place within the genteel world” (Smith-Rosenberg 245). Considering the relatively small number of women at the turn of the century who could or would lay claim to these attributes, her prototypes sparked tremendous debate. While liberal critics might concede that her appearance was a sign of progress, most others worried that she represented the fundamental erosion of time-honored sex roles....

  7. CHAPTER 2 Margaret Murray Washington, Pauline Hopkins, and the New Negro Woman
    (pp. 50-79)

    On April 3, 1901, Florence Ledyard Cross Kitchelt—socialist, suffragist, and settlement worker—described in her journal the appearance of Mr. and Mrs. Booker T. Washington at New York City’s Social Reform Club: “they both are especially noted for theircommon sense. Mrs. Washington is lighter than he and has beautiful features, arched brows, blue (?) eyes, a Grecian nose, and a poise of the head like a Gibson Girl. Her hands are white as mine and beautifully shaped. But her hair is kinky” (84). While Kitchelt grants Margaret Murray Washington some Gibson Girl status as she praises her “light...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Incorporating the New Woman in Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country
    (pp. 80-101)

    Written during the course of Wharton’s break with her husband Teddy, her affair with Morton Fullerton, the sale of her beloved home, growing tension with her long-time publisher, Scribner’s, and just after the financial crash of 1907,The Custom of the Country(1913) reflects Wharton’s own marital, domestic, and financial anxiety.¹ A crisis of managerial control is at the heart of many of these anxieties—how would she manage Teddy, her sexual transgressions, her career, and her growing wealth. Wharton’s self-described “great American Novel” illustrates the consequences of not developing managerial tactics in a rapidly incorporating American culture, a culture...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Sui Sin Far and the Wisdom of the New
    (pp. 102-124)

    “With her quaint manners and old-fashioned mode of life, she carries our minds back to times almost as ancient as the earth we live on. She is a bit of olden Oriental coloring amidst our modern Western lights and shades; and though her years be few, she is yet a relic of antiquity” (59). So Sui Seen Far begins “The Chinese Woman in America” (1897), with a gesture that both confirms the Chinese woman’s status as exotic ethnic Other and popular sociological arguments that found the Chinese burdened by “a race character that looked almost wholly to the past and...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Mary Johnston, Ellen Glasgow, and the Evolutionary Logic of Progressive Reform
    (pp. 125-151)

    By 1913, the writing careers of Mary Johnston and Ellen Glasgow were firmly established. Johnston’s historical romancesTo Have and to Hold, Audrey, Sir Mortimer, Lewis Rand, andThe Long Rollhad appeared on the best-sellers’ lists in 1900, 1902, 1904, 1908, and 1911 respectively. Glasgow’s realist work did not meet quite as much popular success—Deliverancemade the best-sellers’ list in 1904 andThe Wheel of Lifelanded a spot in 1906—but her work was taken more seriously by literary critics who praised its realistic impressionism and “masculine virility.”¹ As writers and close friends, Johnston and Glasgow took...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Willa Cather and the Fluid Mechanics of the New Woman
    (pp. 152-178)

    On November 16, 1895, in a column on the current literary scene for theLincoln Courier, Willa Cather praises Henry James as “that mighty master of language and keen student of human actions” but wishes he would write “about modern society, about ‘degeneracy’ and the new woman and all the rest of it” (World275).

    Nearly a year later in a biographical sketch on the wives of presidential candidates William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan for the socially conservativeHome Monthly, Cather lauds both women as New Women. She begins her sketch of Ida McKinley by praising her graciousness and...

    (pp. 179-186)

    In 1905, Charles Dana Gibson made a dramatic life change. Fearing that his staple pen-and-ink drawings would give way to the more exciting world of color—Remington, Parrish, and Frost had already made the transition—Gibson relinquished both his lucrative contracts withCollier’sandLifeand his future book illustrating opportunities to embark on a European tour to study oil painting. The stock market crash of 1907, however, brought him back home. Having lost both his life savings and any pretensions of moving beyond the light social satire of the Gibson Girl image, he now had to return home to...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 187-204)
    (pp. 205-220)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 221-230)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-232)