Consuming Communities: U.S. Women's Regionalism and Consumer Culture, 1870-1930
Tigchelaar, Jana Michelle
University of Kansas
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Literary regionalism has always faced critical devaluation, both at the time of its greatest popularity in the late nineteenth century and during its critical rediscovery in the past twenty years. Even those critics who seek to laud regionalist texts for offering alternatives to dominant national narratives assume that regionalism is removed from centers of power and authority and not involved in the creation of national identity. Regional literature's peripheral communities, inhabitants, and localized lives were seen as somehow more authentically American than urban scenes and city dwellers, but paradoxically regionalism's purported authenticity also doomed the genre in the face of the rising changes brought by modernity and literary modernism. My dissertation argues that regional literature by American women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not only a product of the expanding consumer culture, but was also fundamentally engaged with this culture, using consumer goods to attempt to define and control the communities they depict. This claim challenges concepts of regionalist literature as a marginal generic category as well as traditional beliefs about the consumer economy's destructive impact on regional community identities. Through my examination of texts by Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Edith Wharton, Anzia Yezierska, and Willa Cather, I challenge prevailing notions of regional literature's marginal status. In these texts, individuals consume to both validate their sense of community and attempt to realize their ambitions for social mobility. In doing so, regionalist authors use consumer objects and material exchange to reimagine communities that transgress the presumably fixed margins of the local to promote fluid, permeable notions of modernity and national identity.
- Dissertations 
- English Dissertations and Theses 
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