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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Critical to the development of realism was the issue of gender, not only in terms of realism’s rejection of the mode of sentimentalism and the genre of women’s fiction but also regarding the women who wrote realism throughout the decades when realism was a dominant literary form. Early realists such as Rebecca Harding Davis, Rose Terry Cooke, Elizabeth Stoddard, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps protested the abuses of industrialism and the unequal gender dynamics encoded in marriage laws while promoting alternative visions of women as independent agents. Second-generation realists Constance Fenimore Woolson, Frances E. W. Harper, and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman questioned the dogma of realism as preached by William Dean Howells and Henry James, ranging beyond the limits of decorum regarding race and sexuality to do so. Early twentieth-century writers stretched the limits of realism further by incorporating elements of other forms, including New Woman, utopian, and travel narratives; immigrant and tourist fiction; Native American legends and popular westerns; and novels of region. The resulting reconsideration of women writers yields a realism that remains faithful to Howells’s ideal of the “truthful treatment of material” while ranging beyond realism’s limits by including a wide range of experiences conditioned by gender and race.

Keywords: women’s realism, realism and regionalism, realism and romance, sentimentalism, women’s fiction, gender and realism

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