Date of Award

12-1995

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Allsion R. Ensor

Committee Members

David Goslee, Jack Reese, William Bruce Wheeler

Abstract

The American local color movement, roughly spanning the end of the Civil War to the turn of the century, attempted to preserve traditional regional lifestyles which were in danger of disappearing entirely in a rapidly expanding, increasingly hegemonic society. Historically, local color fiction has been dismissed as too narrowly focused, too nostalgically charged, too stylistically detailed, too lacking in "literary" merit, too quaint, too insignificant to warrant serious, critical investigation. Critics have typically regarded the movement as a subdivision of regionalism, and have privileged the fiction's characteristic adherence to realistic detail (dialect, folklore, character types, and regional setting) above all else.

Despite this popular critical assumption, realistic fictional techniques did not entirely dominate the local color movement. Using conventions of both European and American Gothic, this study explores the dark romanticism underlying some of the movement's fiction. In particular, it examines ways in which four southern local colorists--Mary Noailles Murfree, Amelie Rives, Kate Chopin, and George Washington Cable--use gothic conventions to foreground restrictions placed on culture, community, and individual. Through the gothic, these writers invoke the strange and bizarre; they portray alienated and isolated individuals; they revive the quest hero and heroine; they refigure conventional reality as a spiritual wasteland; they explore the breakdown and collapse of tradition; they confront and expiate both the private and public guilt of the past; most importantly, they initiate a gesture of revolt. Using such thematic devices, these writers may define individual identity against the chaos of the post-war South, or they may create a community within it. Further, this gothic perspective suggests a deeper, more subtle connection between these southern local colorists and their Southern Renaissance descendants.

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