Rebecca Harding Davis and American Realism

Rebecca Harding Davis and American Realism

Rebecca Harding Davis and American Realism

Rebecca Harding Davis and American Realism

Synopsis

From the late 1860s until her death in 1910, Rebecca Harding Davis was one of the best-known writers in America. She broke into print as a young woman in the 1860s with "Life in the Iron Mills," which established her as one of the pioneers of American realism. She developed a literary theory of the "commonplace" nearly two decades before William Dean Howels shaped his own version of the concept. Yet, in spite of her importance to the literary and popular culture of her time, she has been, for the most part, ignored by scholars. "Rebecca Harding Davis and American Realism" will help to change that.

Excerpt

In April 1862, Emily Dickinson wrote to her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert Dickinson, "Will Sue please lend Emily 'Life in the Iron Mills'--and accept Blossom."Dickinson's acquaintance with "Life in the Iron Mills" and her eagerness to read or possibly reread the short story reflects the literary impact of Rebecca Harding Davis's first major publication. Immediately recognized as a startlingly experimental story, Life was published as the second article in the April 1861 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The remarkable depth and originality of vision in this short story has garnered it a place as one of the pioneering documents in American literature's transition from romanticism to realism, and the naturalistic plot leading to Hugh Wolfe's death challenges our traditional conceptions about the influences behind the movement from realism to naturalism in the United States. None of the standard studies of these genres--Charles Child Walcutt American Literary Naturalism, A Divided Stream (1956), Lars Ahnebrink The Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction (1961), Warner Berthoff The Ferment of Realism (1965), and Donald Pizer Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (rev. 1984)--include analyses of Davis's fiction. Nor have recent studies of women's literary traditions-- Josephine Donovan New England Local Colorists:
A Women's Tradition
(1983), Judith Fetterley Provisions: A Reader from Nineteenth-Century American Women (1985), and Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar Norton Anthology of Literature by Women (1985)--afforded Davis more than passing commentary.

Two factors in Davis's personal life forever changed her vision of what the function and form of literature should be: first, being raised in a rapidly growing mill town, and second, experiencing at first hand the brutal realities of war. Out of these experiences she shaped her distinctive literature of the mid- to late-nineteenth century. My purpose in presenting this critical . . .

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