America at the last fin de siècle was in a period of profound societal transition. Industrialization was well under way and with it a burgeoning sense of professionalism and a growing middle class that was becoming increasingly anxious about issues of race, gender, and class. The American 1890s: A Cultural Reader is a wide-ranging anthology of essays, criticism, and fiction first printed in periodicals during those last remarkable years of the nineteenth century, a decade commonly referred to as the “golden age” of periodical culture. To depict the many changes taking place in the United States at this time, Susan Harris Smith and Melanie Dawson have drawn from an eclectic range of periodicals: elite monthlies such as Scribner’s, Harper’s, and the Atlantic Monthly; political magazines such as the North American Review and Forum; magazines for general readers such as Cosmopolitan and McClures; and specialized publications including the Chatauquan, Outing, and Colored American Magazine. Authors represented in the collection include Andrew Carnegie, Edith Wharton, Theodore Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Booker T. Washington, Stephen Crane, W. E. B. DuBois, Jacob Riis, and Frederick Jackson Turner. A general introduction to the period, a brief contextualizing essay for each selection, and a comprehensive bibliography of secondary sources are provided as well. In examining and debating the decade’s momentous political and social developments, the essays, editorials, and stories in this anthology reflect a constantly shifting culture at a time of internal turmoil, unprecedented political expansion, and a renaissance of modern ideas and new technologies. Bringing together a carefully chosen selection of primary sources, The American 1890s presents a remarkable variety of views—nostalgic, protective, imperialist, progressive, egalitarian, and democratic—held by American citizens a century ago.
From the time that the infant colonies broke away from the parent country to the present day, narratives of U.S. national identity are persistently configured in the language of childhood and family. In The American Child: A Cultural Studies Reader, contributors address matters of race, gender, and family to chart the ways that representations of the child typify historical periods and conflicting ideas. They build on the recent critical renaissance in childhood studies by bringing to their essays a wide range of critical practices and methodologies.
Although the volume is grounded heavily in the literary, it draws on other disciplines, revealing that representations of children and childhood are not isolated artifacts but cultural productions that in turn affect the social climates around them. Essayists look at games, pets, adolescent sexuality, death, family relations, and key texts such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the movie Pocahontas; they reveal the ways in which the figure of the child operates as a rich vehicle for writers to consider evolving ideas of nation and the diverse role of citizens within it.
Focusing on representational approaches to emotion during the years of American literary realism’s dominance and in the works of such authors as Edith Wharton, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, W. D. Howells, Charles Chesnutt, and others, Emotional Reinventions: Realist-Era Representations Beyond Sympathy contends that emotional representations were central to the self-conscious construction of high realism (in the mid-1880s) and to the interrogation of its boundaries. Based on realist-era authors’ rejection of “sentimentalism” and its reduction of emotional diversity (a tendency to stress what Karen Sanchez-Eppler has described as sentimental fiction’s investment in “overcoming difference”), Melanie Dawson argues that realist-era investments in emotional detail were designed to confront differences of class, gender, race, and circumstance directly. She explores the ways in which representational practices that approximate scientific methods often led away from scientific theories and rejected rigid attempts at creating emotional taxonomies. She argues that ultimately realist-era authors demonstrated a new investment in individuated emotional histories and experiences that sought to honor all affective experiences on their own terms.
A compelling analysis of how "middling" Americans entertained themselves and how these entertainments changed over time.
The changing styles of middle-class home entertainments, Melanie Dawson argues, point to evolving ideas of class identity in U.S. culture. Drawing from 19th- and early-20th-century fiction, guidebooks on leisure, newspaper columns, and a polemical examination of class structures, Laboring to Play interrogates the ways that leisure performances (such as parlor games, charades, home dramas, and tableaux vivants) encouraged participants to test out the boundaries that were beginning to define middle-class lifestyles.
From 19th-century parlor games involving grotesque physical contortions to early-20th-century recitations of an idealized past, leisure employments mediated between domestic and public spheres, individuals and class-based affiliations, and ideals of egalitarian social life and visible hierarchies based on privilege. Negotiating these paradigms, home entertainments provided their participants with unique ways of performing displays of individual ambitions within a world of polite social interaction.
Laboring to Play deals with subjects as wide ranging as social performances, social history (etiquette and gentility), literary history, representations of childhood, and the history of the book.