The beginning of feminism in the South: An examination of southern women writing Civil War and Reconstruction novels, Augusta Jane Evans to Ellen Glasgow
Dooley, Nora Ann
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This dissertation reclaims, within southern women's nineteenth-century cultural and historic discourse, the sentimental, romantic, historic novel. It is a comparative literary and historical study of southern women's life situations from the antebellum period to World War I. For comparison and contrast, it is also grounded in the northern women's circumstances before the Civil War. Fifteen southern women's novels are intertextually analyzed, with an emphasis on the evolution of women's writing from the Civil War, Reconstruction, The Lost Cause and on into the beginning of realism. Eleven authors from Augusta Jane Evans through Ellen Glasgow are examined. As a feminist study, the thesis argues that women of the white aristocratic class did not make major post-war gender or identity changes. Though the seeds of change were planted, they were not cultivated. The changes that were made were subtle mental shifts wherein women realized that their lives had been sufficiently altered by the Civil War, presenting them with challenging new realities. Rather than definite beginnings, there was only an undertow of new feminist rumblings. Through these literary works, one learns that when most women, white or black, returned to the post-war domestic home front, their priority was their families. In contrast, these authors were among the few independent women, "articulate dissenters," as Anne Fior Scott aptly names them. In sum, through their narratives, we are able to engage in revisionist work, that Adrienne Rich correctly argues, gives us an ability to turn back with fresh eyes and to reenter old texts, gaining in the process a new critical lens which speaks to women.