Difference in View: Women and Modernism

Difference in View: Women and Modernism

Difference in View: Women and Modernism

Difference in View: Women and Modernism


This collection of essays challenges conceptions of high modernism, its preoccupation with style at the expense of issues such as race, class and gender, and its exclusive focus both on predominately male writers, poetry and prose fiction by highlighting the diversity of cultural production in the modernist period. This book focusses specifically on women's cultural production, covering a wide range of arts and genres including chapters on painting, theatre, and magazines. The book investigates how women usually constructed as others, themselves construct others in their work in a period prominently concerned with the construction of self as an issue. This diversity offers a new format of reading modernism in a cross-disciplinary context.


Mary Condé

Deeply embedded in American thought is the idea that happiness is a place. The songs hope for somewhere over the rainbow, somewhere a place for us; but what American literature tells us is that no matter how far Natty Bumppo may move out west, or however hard Huck Finn may try to light out for the territory, there is nowhere. When Newland Archer tells Ellen Olenska (Wharton, 1920, p. 242) that he wants to go with her somewhere where they can be just two people in love, she asks him, ‘Ah, my dear—where is that country? Have you ever been there?’

Newland clearly supposes the good place to be in Europe, and France, especially, is desired by Wharton’s American characters as a land of civilized values affording freedom from the vulgar materialism of America. In Wharton (1923), as in Cather (1922), France does provide the lonely, alienated protagonist with a redemptive dream of beauty, but only at the very moment that this beauty is being destroyed. Even more pessimistic about Europe as a solution for their characters are two African-American writers, Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961), author of There is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (1929), The Chinaberry Tree (1931) and Comedy: American Style (1933), and Nella Larsen (1893-1963), author of Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). Fauset’s and Larsen’s preoccupations are not with dreams of beauty, but with the possibilities of work, and workable social identities, for their heroines.

Neither writer is interested in Africa. Nella Larsen, born of a Danish mother and a West Indian father, presumably felt her own connection with Africa to be remote. Jessie Redmon Fauset certainly felt hers to be so, coming, as do most of her characters, from a longestablished American family. In her foreword to The Chinaberry Tree (p. x), she makes it clear that the prosperous middle-class American of . . .

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