During the summer of 1933, Austin reiterated the ideas expressed in "Regionalism in American Fiction" at a conference on the topic of regional literature held at the University of Montana in Missoula. In response to a question, she reportedly claimed that even Milton's Paradise Lost was regional in time. Although Austin wrote consistently of and about the American West, it is fair to say that this essay represents the core of Austin's formal theoretical thinking about the experience of the American West.
Praising "fiction which has come up through the land, shaped by the author's own adjustments to it," Austin suggests that a strong regional sense in literature can act as a corrective to the "blurred" effects of what she saw, even in the 1930s, as an increasingly homogenized mass culture, or "the proverbial bird's-eye view of the American scene, what you might call an automobile eye view," as she refers to it here. Austin's thinking about regional issues participates in the larger movement of "regional reconstruction" promoted by many American intellectuals during the 1920s and 1930s. Expanding from the more limited "local color" school of the late nineteenth century and debating the theories of historian Frederick Jackson Turner, such writers and critics as Lewis Mumford and Vernon L. Parrington developed models of cultural decentralization that would find currency among both regional writers and social reformers during the Depression years. Austin was well aware of this general regional current surfacing in American letters at the time, perhaps most directly through the work of her friend Carey McWilliams, whose 1930 The New Regionalism in American Literature was a reasoned defense of regional writing, stemming from his appreciation for the value in a romantic vision of primitive, agrarian, and otherwise former ways of life.
Austin's "Regionalism" essay stands up interestingly against the socalled "frontier thesis" of Frederick Jackson Turner. In his well-known and much debated 1893 essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," Turner sees the then recent "closing" of the western frontier (official closing, that is, by decree of the United States Census Bureau in 1890) as a step away from the creative, formative role that the American West had once exerted in fashioning American thought and character. Austin, on the other hand, focuses on the ongoing influence of the region, detailing in her work a sense of a unique regional experience that in her view would have to form the basis for human occupation of the West in the twentieth century.
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Publication information: Book title: Beyond Borders:The Selected Essays of Mary Austin. Contributors: Reuben J. Ellis - Editor, Mary Hunter Austin - Author. Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press. Place of publication: Carbondale, IL. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 129.
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