Files in this item



application/pdf9921656.pdf (22MB)Restricted to U of Illinois
(no description provided)PDF


Title:The "Full Bloom of Rosy Health": Fitness and Feminism in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction
Author(s):Arend, Mary Kate
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Baym, Nina
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):History, United States
Abstract:This dissertation challenges the widespread notion that nineteenth-century American literature, especially popular novels, publicized and enhanced the "Cult of True Womanhood" (Barbara Welter) and the "Cult of Female Invalidism" (Barbara Ehrenreich, Deirdre English, Ann Douglas Wood, etc.) via portrayals of weak, submissive and sickly female heroines. Partial challenges to this notion have been launched by Nina Baym's Woman's Fiction and Frances Cogan's All-American Girl, but these works focus on only one genre, domestic fiction, whereas I examine a broad spectrum of genres and writers. Through analyses of Cooper's historical novels; Hawthorne's romances; antebellum domestic fiction; post-Civil-War children's literature; and turn-of-the-century works by Jewett, Chopin and London, I argue that from 1820 to 1915, men and women authors in both "serious" and "popular" American novels progressively depicted female characters as healthy, robust and even athletic---thus reflecting and promoting increased vitality and physical emancipation for white, middle-class American women. Fictional portrayals of vigorous heroines, however, are typically complex and riddled with internal contradictions, testifying to the felt pressures of more conservative norms. Many novelists attempted to paint these sprightly characters as sexually appealing according to contemporary standards of bourgeois feminine beauty---standards that prized pale complexions; soft, delicate features; and slender, corseted figures. These characteristics implied (and in some ways required) a passivity difficult to reconcile with either physical activity or its resulting athletic traits: tanned, muscular bodies; displays of corporal, mental and emotional strength; and uninhibited (hence uncorseted) movement. This dissertation traces how the resulting paradoxical renderings of rugged yet dainty and demure Victorian heroines transform with the passing decades, in tandem with the changing models of beauty and the growing popularity of such movements as health, exercise, and dress reform, until characters, athletic bodies and manifest physical fitness become signifiers of many new freedoms for American women.
Issue Date:1999
Description:452 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1999.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI9921656
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:1999

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Item Statistics