Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Over the last two centuries, mass-produced serial narratives, especially those created for women, have been vilified or ignored by literary and cultural critics. Serial narratives, which include continuing stories published in installments and independent tales that form part of an overarching plot, have been maligned for their content, for the material realities of their mass production, and most simply for their popularity. Serial texts aimed at female audiences have been subjected to further criticisms: they have been judged as being trivial or insipid in content and as lacking aesthetic merit or cultural weight. Despite these criticisms, serial narratives were exceedingly popular with audiences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and by the end of the twentieth century became the dominant mode of storytelling across nearly all media. Popularity, far from being a reason to disparage these works, suggests the enormous power serial narratives have to both reflect and shape the culture that produces and consumes them. This cultural agency has long been overlooked, and this study hopes to change that. Serial narratives, it will be argued, train readers and viewers in various ways to actively participate in the narrative and in parallel ways in real life, an outcome especially noteworthy for modern female audiences. Ongoing and repetitive, serial narratives invite long-term engagement that enables audiences to participate imaginatively in the story itself and to embody the attitudes and behaviors of the serial protagonists in their own lives. In addition, because they are published on a potentially infinite basis, serial narratives are a medium through which modern audiences come to understand themselves and the world they inhabit. This connection between the reading and viewing choices of the modern citizen and their lived experiences, what I call serial modernism, provides a way of understanding how serial texts enact this connection particularly in relation to the modern woman’s increasing sense of agency and her continually evolving identity. Several serial texts from different eras and in different media that powerfully engage with evolving expectations of American women over the last 150 years will crystallize this connection: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series (1868-1886) and her serialized novel Work (1873); two silent film serials, The Perils of Pauline (1914) and The Hazards of Helen (1914-1917); two teenage sleuth series, Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew (1930-2003) and Margaret Sutton’s Judy Bolton (1930-1967); and Sara Paretsky’s adult detective series V.I. Warshawski (1982-present).
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