Date of Award

12-2003

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Allen Dunn

Committee Members

Mary E. Papke, Stanton B. Garner, Flavia Brizio

Abstract

Literary modernism has been presented, in scholarship and critical histories, as a masculinized movement: a literature largely by men and concerned with issues of literary form rather than with everyday life. This critical tunnel vision has inevitably prevented a full accounting of many key aspects of modernist literature. One issue of modernism that has been persistently overlooked by scholars is the central role of domesticity in many modernist texts and the importance to modernists of reclaiming the domestic as a subject of high art. As this study demonstrates, modernist texts often focused on everyday life, and these modernist treatments of the domestic were rarely purely formal. Instead, modernist authors used formal experimentation to transform and recover, not obliterate, the material of everyday life.

Three modernist authors - F.T. Marinetti, Djuna Barnes, and Gertrude Stein - provide particularly rich illustrations of modernism's impulse to aesthetically transform the domestic. This study examines texts in which these authors critically engage domesticity: Marinetti's The Futurist Cookbook (1932), Bames's Ladies Almanack (1928) and Nightwood (1936), and Stein's Tender Buttons (1914). Marinetti's, Bames's, and Stein's transformations of the domestic rely on an aesthetics of desublimation, a recognition that threats, anxieties, and violences are concealed within the fabric of everyday life.

In The Futurist Cookbook, Marinetti explores those conflicts inherent (but latent, contained) in nineteenth-century domesticity: conflicts which are racial, sexual, regional, national, and colonial in nature. Moreover, Marinetti appropriates domesticity's potential for containment and uses this power to symbolically control those outside the Futurist aesthetic and social program. Like Marinetti, Barnes explodes traditional domesticity in her novels, and she calls into question traditional definitions of gender and sexuality, as these novels problematize domesticity's traditional role as a site of the definition and maintenance of gender distinctions. However, these two novels have strikingly different tones and present very different images of the domestic: in Ladies Almanack, Barnes celebrates the grotesque excesses of domesticity, while in Nightwood, domesticity is a memento mori, a bellwether of the characters' and their society's steady disintegration. Stein's Tender Buttons, like Barnes's Ladies Almanack, privileges a domesticity which exceeds propriety, and Stein explores the nature of selfhood through the self's interactions with its immediate surroundings: the domestic sphere. In addition, Stein brings out the most vibrant, uncontrollable aspects of domesticity - its excess - particularly the violent and the erotic, which are, of course, those facets of life most likely to be absent from Victorian representations of the domestic.

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