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Women's Novels, Progressivism And Middlebrow Authorship Between The Wars

By Author: Alexia.White
Total Articles: 41

In How to Read and Why (New York: Scribner, 2000), Harold Bloom cautioned, "Do not attempt to improve your neighbor or your neighborhood by what or how you read" (p. 24). America the Middlebrow examines four writers of the interwar period Dorothy Canfield, Jessie Fauset, Pearl Buck, and Josephine Herbst who strove to create for their audiences exactly the result Bloom disavowed: reading experiences that would lead to Replica Omega progressive social change. In the service of that goal, Jaime Harker argues, her subjects adopted the compositional strategies and market position associated with middlebrow culture, choices that left them open to neglect or derision by modernists and academics. Marker's admirable purpose is to refute those dismissive judgments. Instead, she sketches a tradition of women's "activist fiction" (p. 3) distinct both from modernism and from other modes of middlebrow authorship.

Harker links her figures, first, to their obvious antecedents, the American women writers who, in the 1850s, used the conventions of sentimentalism and the terms of Christian theology to offer a critique of slavery and industrial capitalism. Yet she makes the more unusual claim those elements of nineteenth-century women's fiction lived on in the pragmatist aesthetics of John Dewey. The connection, Harker observes, was a faith in art's capacity to evoke in readers feelings that would foster both individual development and a unified community. All of her subjects, she proposes, perpetuated that faith. Moreover, like their predecessors, all relied on "key characteristics of middlebrow reading" (p. 18) to achieve those emotional results: they created narratives that enabled audiences to identify with fictional characters, employed conventional rather than innovative structure, and depicted the author as friend and guide.

Dorothy Canfield is the most recognizable progressive of the bunch. Canfield popularized progressive educational methods, believed passionately in the rights and obligations of democratic citizens, and Omega Replica Watches supported numerous liberal causes throughout her life. Harker insists on tracing Canfield's outlook to the direct influence of Dewey, without any evidence for that assertion. But the more significant of Harker's points is that Canfield's progressive convictions inflected her stylistic decisions and her sense of herself as a novelist. In The Brimming Cup (serialized in 1920), which Harker insightfully explicates, Canfield furnished "a reading experience that educates without belittling, advocates without berating" (p. 30). By the same token, Canfield took full advantage of the growth of women's magazines in the 1920s, finding their vision of combined domesticity and civic participation congenial to her own attitudes.

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