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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the role of houses and interiors in American realist fiction and argues that realist authors were preoccupied with settings and houses in a way unique to their period, the late nineteenth century, when numerous technological and aesthetic developments coincided with the reproduction of “real life” in writing. Offering the lives and literature of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edith Wharton as useful brackets around the realist genre, the chapter illustrates the degree to which these two authors made the motif of the home central to their fiction and nonfiction. It provides detailed readings of Stowe’s Pink and White Tyranny (1871), Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905), and Wharton’s rural novel, Summer (1917) in order to showcase how houses personify and encapsulate their characters. In realist fiction, the chapter argues, houses can be read in order to understand the characters who move within them, just as characters can be read by their homes. Finally, the chapter reveals the degree to which Gilded Age excess was replaced by early twentieth-century simplicity, which, in turn, became the linchpin for the era of modernism that evolved in literature and architecture at this time.

Keywords: women’s writing, domestic fiction, Gilded Age, architecture, settings, houses, dwellings, domestic architecture, identity

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