Becoming suitable: Self-fashioning and the rag trade in American literature, 1865-1925 [electronic resource].

Wacker, Jill Gibbs.
337 p.
Contained In:
Dissertation Abstracts International 58-03A.

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American literature.
United States -- Research.
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Penn dissertations -- English. (search)
English -- Penn dissertations. (search)
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Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Recent historicist scholarship has sharpened appreciation of American realism by figuring it as a response to striking cultural transformations. My dissertation revises and extends this work by reading a heterogeneous and inclusive set of texts through the tropologies of the postbellum garment and textile industries. I take as my subject moments when clothes and fashion emerge in literature to address a host of postbellum cultural pressures: the gendering of urban consumer culture, African American identity in Reconstruction, the relation of upper-class women to turn-of-the-century toilers in the needle trades, and the reciprocal reshaping of the immigrant voice and contemporary literary representations of opportunity.
The first chapter investigates the market-driven conventions of material self-conception patterned in popular postbellum writing for boys, dismantling traditional readings of Horatio Alger's formulaic "rags-to-riches" tales and suggesting instead a gendered economy of self as the engine of the sentimental materialism that overwhelms these tales. In this literature, boys' identities depend on feminized and fashion-obsessed responses to a chaotic urban milieu dominated by displaced seamstresses and the lure of drygoods. In the second chapter, on slave narratives and the autobiography of former slave and "national seamstress" Elizabeth Keckley, I suggest that accounts of clothes and clothes-making were not only motifs with which African American autobiographers quilted themselves into the refined, domestic literary tradition of the nineteenth century, but a discursive tool they used to make themselves understood in a nascent consumer culture to demonstrate the essential similarities that existed between the former slave and the acquisitive American citizen. My third chapter, on the fiction and non-fiction of Edith Wharton, examines the intersection of the nineteenth-century literary conventions associated with female craft traditions and the emerging vocabularies of publicity and mass desire. The final chapter takes a new look at the role of immigrant realism through the fiction of Anzia Yezierska, identifying Yezierska's oppositional deployment of the "rags-to-riches" tradition as a form of hybridized resistance.
Thesis (Ph.D. in English) -- University of Pennsylvania, 1997.
Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 58-03, Section: A, page: 0877.
Local notes:
School code: 0175.
University of Pennsylvania.
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Restricted for use by site license.