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Title:Modernism's Scarlet Letter: Plotting Abortion in American Fiction, 1900--1945
Author(s):Gillette, Meg
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Parker, Robert Dale
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:"Modernism's Scarlet Letter: Plotting Abortion in American Fiction, 1900-1945" credits modern fiction as a principle architect of twentieth-century American abortion politics. Drawing together a wide range of abortion plots from canonical, avant-garde and popular early twentieth-century texts, "Modernism's Scarlet Letter" discovers a voluminous (and previously overlooked) abortion discourse written and circulated in an era that historians of American abortion politics once dismissed as "the century of silence." At a time when American political institutions were shying away from the topic of abortion, modern fiction writers, I argue, developed abortion plots that familiarized readers with its practice and identified abortion with economic, sexual, aesthetic and racial ideologies. In the days before sex-ed classes and pro-life and pro-choice abortion rhetorics, these abortion plots taught readers how to look for, shop for, talk about, and respond to illegal abortions. Their plottings of abortion also freighted abortion with heavy political baggage. Writing abortion as a climax, or turning point, to stories about modern sexuality, class mobility, affectionate parenting, anti-sentimentalism, racial segregation, etc., modern fiction, I argue, transformed abortion from a private "woman's issue" into a referendum on the day's cultural and political crises. Where previous literary critics have treated these abortion plots apart from one another and thus seen idiosyncratic expressions of post-abortion grief or apolitical metaphors for more sanitary topics ("the story isn't about abortion; it's about individualism/difference/art/communication etc."), I read them as a group to reveal a venturous public abortion discourse rehearsing readers in modern reproductive crises and laying the groundwork for today's abortion debates. A critical genealogy of how modern fiction helped establish abortion as the center of a national political crisis, my dissertation rethinks modern fiction's supposed disinterest in feminine, familial affairs as it credits modern fiction as a significant player in the history of criminalized abortion and development of today's abortion politics.
Issue Date:2007
Description:176 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3290239
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2007

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