Aesthetics and Gender in American Literature: Portraits of the Woman Artist

By Deborah Barker | Go to book overview

7
Authenticating the African-American Female
Artist: Frances Harper's Iola Leroy and
Jessie Fausets Plum Bun

I

THE DESIRE TO “WRITE IN COLOR” AND TO BE ACCEPTED AS AN artist and a woman takes on new meaning in the fictional representations of African-American women artists. The first use of the female visual artist in a novel by an African-American woman does not appear until Jessie Fauset's Plum Bun, published in 1929. Fauset grapples with many of the same issues that are depicted in the nineteenth-century female Künstlerroman—the problematics of representing female desire, the contraposition between conceptions of genius and femininity based on the inherent inferiority of women, the conflict between domestic duties and artistic demands—but, precisely because she is writing at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Fauset takes into account, more fully than any other novel in this study, the impact of racial and gender assumptions implicit in theories of aesthetics.

Plum Bun's heroine, Angela Murray, is a talented, young black woman who is initiated into “adventures in passing” during her Saturday shopping trips with her mother. Subsequently, she uses her light skin and artistic talent to leave her middle-class home in Philadelphia and to pass as a white artist in Greenwich Village, where she creates her awardwinning paintings entitled “Fourteenth Street Types.” Fauset uses the latest innovation in American art, the style and subject matter of the Fourteenth Street artists, to signal the changes in Angela's relationship to art and to passing. Through Angela's shifting perspective, Fauset redefines the black woman artist's position on racial uplift, taking into ac

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Aesthetics and Gender in American Literature: Portraits of the Woman Artist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 5
  • Acknowledgements 7
  • Introduction 9
  • Reproducing Culture 25
  • 1: Cultural Reproduction and the Female Copyist 27
  • 2: Domesticating the Sublime 39
  • 3: The Riddle of the Sphinx 64
  • 4: Louisa May Alcotts Women Artists 94
  • 5: Kate Chopin's Awakening of Female Artistry 120
  • 6: Edith Wharton's Portrait of a Lady in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction 142
  • 7: Authenticating the African-American Female Artist 162
  • Notes 199
  • Bibliography 239
  • Index 255
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