Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Allison R. Ensor

Committee Members

Michael L. Keene, Bill J. Hardwig, Linda L. Phillips

Abstract

This dissertation investigates the memoirs, novels, and short stories of three women writers whose work is heavily invested in a sense of place and privileges women’s relationships to the land: Harriette Simpson Arnow, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Barbara Kingsolver. All of these women spent their formative years in Kentucky, which for the purposes of this project classifies them as “Kentucky writers.” As a group these women offer a one possible solution to modern concerns for women: a relationship to the land as refuge. Engagement with the land as refuge provides a sense of satisfaction, a source of therapy, and a place of solace from which female characters in their work gain empowerment in the dynamic era following 1945. This solution is a response to issues such as economic displacement; the desire and necessity for a higher education; adventure and freedom from family and community expectations; increased opportunities to gain employment; greater independence; and prejudice, divorce, abuse, war, illness, and the death of a child or other family member. Whether these characters garden, subsume themselves in nature, or decide to live in cooperation with their environment when other options are readily available, choosing to engage with the land when faced with such concerns, both physically and ideologically, allows them to move forward. Arnow, Mason, and Kingsolver therefore reconceptualize the land through rhetorical regionalism, repurposing it to benefit characters in the modern era. As a result, this work affirms the relevance of regionalism in the twenty-first century. In order to do so effectively, it is organized into two parts. Part one offers a discussion of regionalism, an exploration of modern women’s history, and an overview of ecofeminist literary criticism. Part two presents primary texts and critical interpretations of those texts. Ultimately, as this dissertation shows, Arnow, Mason, and Kingsolver offer confirmation that literary depictions born out of a writer’s rootedness in a place maintain their potency, especially as women continue to present their unique concerns and assess dominant views at both local and societal levels in new ways in new eras.

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