Date of Award

8-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Allison R. Ensor

Committee Members

Mary E. Papke, Thomas F. Haddox, Benita J. Howell

Abstract

Categorized by the few critics who know her work as a "minor" Appalachian writer, Anne Wetzell Armstrong has never enjoyed the recognition she deserves. But she produced an important body of work, including fiction, non-fiction and drama. In the 1970‘s, critic Elaine Showalter led the gynocritical effort to recover women writers and inspired the reintroduction of a number of overlooked authors. This national impulse and the positive reception of its results has driven, in turn, an interest in similar regional efforts—hence my own interest in recovering the work of Armstrong, whose work has value in both national and regional contexts.

This study applies a regionalist lens to Armstrong‘s fiction, including an early short story entitled "Half-Wit Mary‘s Lover" (1912), and her two novels: The Seas of God (1915) and This Day and Time (1930). The project begins with Armstrong‘s biography, outlining the elements of her long and unusual life that influenced her writing. The three regionalist close readings point out the ways in which her fiction resisted hegemonic culture and offered a new perspective to early twentieth-century American readers. This project explores the ways in which Armstrong used her fiction to resist dominant culture‘s view of marginal populations, with a particular emphasis on the stereotyping of women and Southern mountaineers.

Because Armstrong‘s considerable body of work focuses frequently on marginal women, the temptation exists to adhere strictly to a feminist lens in reading her work. Such an approach proves valid; however, the lens of literary regionalism—especially as defined by critics like Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse and differentiated from local color by its counterhegemonic agenda—offers a broader consideration of Armstrong‘s work. As a site for feminist readings, Armstrong‘s work proves interesting but stands as one among many; as regionalism, her fiction offers important new opportunities both to support and to problematize current thinking about the definition of the term as it applies to literature and also to explore certain controversial topics arising in the theoretical discourse, the role of feminism being one of those topics.

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