Date of Award

8-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

Carolyn R. Hodges, Thomas Haddox, William Hardwig

Abstract

“Home/Economics: Enterprise, Property, and Money in Women’s Domestic Fiction, 1860-1930” connects American women’s literature to the ideological tensions that affected women’s participation in the development of industrial capitalism in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Working against separate spheres ideologies that largely restricted women’s activities to domestic duties as wives and mothers and discouraged them from working in the public marketplace, American women authors engaged with the contemporary economic theories of John Stuart Mill and Thorstein Veblen and promoted New Woman principles to forge new avenues of fulfilling and productive work for women.

In chapters focusing on entrepreneurial work that engages simultaneously in domestic and public spheres – the boarding house, the textile mill, and the farm – I incorporate a comparative study of American literature, economic theory, and historical documentation of women’s work. This examination of the historical network of voices shaping the conditions of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century marketplace in which women writers participated reveals the connections between literary representation and economic change.

I argue that, for women writers including Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Rebecca Harding Davis, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Willa Cather, and Ellen Glasgow, literary representation became a form of feminist activism that promoted greater opportunities for women’s economic independence and participated in national conversations about money and resources, capitalism’s effects on the character of individuals, and ways to balance the necessity of money with social needs for promoting human sympathy and social progress. Women’s fiction critiqued prevailing social and economic inequities through portrayals of successful women entrepreneurs, demonstrating that women possessed the capacity to compete with men as successful entrepreneurial capitalists, the desire for productive work that made profitable use of their individual capacities, and the womanly attributes of sympathy and nurture that, when exercised as community-building professionalism, could help to ameliorate the exploitative outcomes of capitalist greed.

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