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This study proposes interpretive strategies for nineteenth-century American women's novels. Harris contends that women in the nineteenth century read subversively, 'processing texts according to gender based imperatives'. Beginning with Susannah Rowson's best-selling seduction novel Charlotte Temple (1791), and ending with Willa Cather's O Pioneers! (1913), Harris scans white, middle-class women's writing throughout the nineteenth century. In the process she both explores reading behaviour and formulates a literary history for mainstream nineteenth-century American women's fiction. Through most of the twentieth century, women's novels of the earlier period have been denigrated as conventional, sentimental, and overwritten. Harris shows that these conditions are actually narrative strategies, rooted in cultural imperatives and, paradoxically, integral to the later development of women's texts that call for women's independence. Working with actual women's diaries and letters, Harris first shows what contemporary women sought from the books they read. She then applies these reading strategies to the most popular novels of the period, proving that even the most apparently retrograde demonstrate their heroines' abilities to create and control areas culturally defined as male.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780521428705
ISBN-10: 052142870X
Format: Paperback
(230mm x 155mm x 15mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: Cambridge University Press
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publish Date: 27-Mar-1992
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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