Date of Award

5-1-2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Shapiro, Joe

Abstract

This dissertation offers a revisionist account of American regionalist fiction. In particular, it contests prevailing diagnoses of the genre as bourgeois nostalgia by locating within its content and form a radical utopian impulse. By drawing out their engagement with socialist, feminist, anti-racist, and environmental protection movements, this project shows how regionalist texts perform both the utopian work of envisioning progressive futures and the necessarily regionalist work of orienting and charting a path toward those futures on a localized scale. Although our historical understanding of social movements during the Long Gilded Age is largely framed in the Nationalist and (proto-)Progressive politics of much overtly utopian fiction, comparative readings of William Dean Howells, Sarah Orne Jewett, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charles W. Chesnutt, Sutton E. Griggs, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Kate Chopin reveal within regionalist fiction a more radically democratic model for social change. This suggests, in part, that regionalist writers of the 1870s through the 1910s imagined the local rather than the national as the scale on which social change could and should be carried out.

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