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“I thought of you in her place”: representations of black womanhood in American literary realism, 1868-1900

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Title: “I thought of you in her place”: representations of black womanhood in American literary realism, 1868-1900
Author(s): Rudolph, Kerstin
Advisor(s): Foote, Stephanie
Contributor(s): Bauer, Dale; Maxwell, William; McDuffie, Erik
Department / Program: English
Discipline: English
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Doctoral
Subject(s): American Literature Gender Studies
Abstract: My dissertation explores postbellum texts that put African American womanhood at the heart of their narratives, both as an abstract symbol of race and gender and as embodied through female characters. I focus on realist texts that are specifically concerned with the representation of female subjectivity and set them into dialogue with the earlier, and often understood to be stylistically oppositional, genre of sentimentalism. My project explores the antagonistic dynamics around these two literary forms and challenges us to reconsider the symbolic function of the black woman from one formerly deemed outside the proper boundaries of womanhood to one that nineteenth-century writers saw as a truer and “realer” antidote to their refined white counterparts. What unites the diverse writers I analyze is that they offer alternatives to a normative model of upper-class white womanhood they deem, for various reasons, limiting, stale and outdated. Instead of claiming middle-class whiteness as normative womanhood, many of these texts suggest that white women are only understandable through the values connected to black womanhood who, in the vocabulary of the genre, constitute the real. Throughout the dissertation, I argue that it is precisely over the figure of the newly freed African American that realism intersects so profoundly with sentimentality and simultaneously becomes more like it. My approach to the role of race in realism is thus informed by an emphasis on literary form and social history, particularly as they interact in these texts’ deployment of African American womanhood. It is ultimately not the female characters themselves that are crucial to my argument but the concept of black womanhood: its social, cultural, and ideological implications drove the gender representations of realist, postbellum American literature.
Issue Date: 2012-02-01
Genre: thesis
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/29533
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Kerstin Rudolph
Date Available in IDEALS: 2014-02-01
Date Deposited: 2011-12
 

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