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Title:Mary E. Wilkins Freeman: Realism, sentimentalism, and popular fiction
Author(s):Shaw, Stuart Bradley
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Baym, Nina
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Women's Studies
Literature, American
Abstract:During a forty-year career Mary E. Wilkins Freeman wrote one motion picture script, three plays, three volumes of poetry, fourteen novels, twenty-two volumes of short stories, and over seventy uncollected short stories and prose essays. Most of this work remains relatively unexplored. A reading of representative examples of Freeman's fiction in their sociocultural and generic contexts leads to a description and estimate of Freeman's corpus that transcends the limited acclaim for her two early short story collections, A Humble Romance (1887) and A New England Nun (1891). American local color literature is often described as a nostalgic response to rapid social change. A second critical trope about this regional literature dominated by the presence of women authors is that it often fails because it cloaks itself in the guise of realism but retreats into the ideology and conventions of the feminine and sentimental. This study attempts a historical, cultural, and generic reading of Freeman's diverse fiction that productively turns these critical commonplaces upside-down and moves beyond their limitations. Freeman's work needs to be understood as an investigation of sentimentalism and a deployment of its strategies for literary purposes.
As a professional writer, Freeman tried her hand at most of the dominant fictional genres of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This dissertation explores her use of the popular local color mode in A Humble Romance, and Other Stories (1887), along with her infusion of this realistic strategy into other popular genres: the New England historical romance in Jane Field (1893) and Pembroke (1894), detective and ghost stories in "The Long Arm" (1895) and The Wind in the Rose-Bush, and Other Stories (1903), the factory novel in The Portion of Labor (1901), and the persistently popular genre of the female bildungsroman in By the Light of My Soul (1906). Freeman's diverse corpus should be linked together as the productions of a professional woman writer responding to the demands of a mass-audience that was generated and maintained by the expanding periodical literature of the period.
Issue Date:1991
Rights Information:Copyright 1991 Shaw, Stuart Bradley
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9136728
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9136728

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