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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes American literary realism as emerging from the efforts of a group of early postbellum women writers—Elizabeth Stoddard, Rebecca Harding Davis, Louisa May Alcott, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps—to access the newly minted American high literary culture exemplified by the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The origins of realism, these writers’ texts show, lie in intertextuality. They not only revise their own and one another’s work to excise the vestiges of the popular feminine tradition of domestic sentimentalism, but they also rework Hawthorne’s canonical gothic plots and imagery in the context of a shift in literary tastes away from the romance and toward an aesthetic that values the contemporary and the everyday. Their adaptation of the Hawthornean gothic to address the patriarchal and capitalist foundations of social life yields the earliest version of American literary realism as a mode of structural social critique.

Keywords: postbellum women writers, high literary culture, intertextuality, domestic sentimentalism, Hawthornean gothic, structural social critique

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