Table of Contents
3. A “Woman’s Place” in American Realism
3.1 Local Color and Realism
3.2 Jewett’s Place in American Realism
3.3 Maine Person and Boston Professional
3.4 Realism, Feminism, and the World of Dunnet Landing
4. A Writer’s Life
4.1 Sarah’s Portrait and her Companion Annie Fields
4.2 Famous Works
4.3 Sarah Orne Jewett’s Maine – A Journey Back
The seminar Realism in Context took place in summer term 2005 at Landau University. The instructor, Prof. Dr. Martin Klepper, led the students through the seminar where each of the students had to present a topic related to or concerned with realism. As a result of the instructor’s and students’s work Prof. Dr. Martin Klepper published the paper Realism in Context – A Student Reader which was written by himself and the students.
One of the books that were read in class during semester was Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. The central theme in this book is the relationship of the protagonist Isabel with Osmond.
The following seminar paper deals with the local color writer Sarah Orne Jewett, a female novelist, poet, and short-story writer. After explaining the definitions of realism and feminism in the second chapter, Jewett’s place in American Realism will be discussed in chapter three. Hereby it is neccessary to emphasize Jewett’s masterpiece The Country of the Pointed Firs, first published in 1896. Realism, feminism and feminist writing will be discussed and analysed on the basis of some selected works and texts.
In chapter four it is important to show Jewett’s life beyond gender and beyond her writing. Annie Fields, maybe Jewett’s best friend, played an important role in Jewett’s life. Sarah Orne Jewett’s best-known works will be introduced. Carol Schachinger, who is impressed by Jewett and her home very much, takes us to a “trip“ back to Maine to tell us how and where Jewett lived. At the end, the summary in chapter five closes the seminar paper.
The guiding line that will lead us through the seminar paper is Jewett as a feminist and beyond.
Pointing out the importance of The Country of the Pointed Firs, Willa Cather writes in a 1925 essay:
”If I were asked to name three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life, I would say at once, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs. I can think of no others that confront time and change so serenely” (xviii).
Realism has a wide range of definitions. Dealing with realism in general Abrams writes that “realism is used in two ways: (1) to denote a literary movement of the nineteenth century, especially in prose fiction (beginning with Balzac in France, George Eliot in England, and William Dean Howells in America),” and Abrams goes on, secondly “to designate a recurrent way of representing life in literature, which was typified by the writers of this historical movement” (140).
Furthermore Abrams explains that realism is “to present accurate imitation of life” as it is (140). According to Abrams a realist is “deliberately selective in his material and prefers the average, the commonplace, and the everyday over the rarer aspects of the contemporary scene” (141). “His characters,” Abrams continues, “are usually of the middle class or (less frequently) the working class – people without highly exceptional endowments, who live through ordinary experiences of childhood, adolescence, love, marriage, parenthood, infidelity, and death; who find life rather dull and often unhappy, though it may be brightened by touches of beauty and joy; but who may, under special circumstances, display something akin to heroism” (141). Realism involves not only a “selection of subject matter but, more importantly, a special literary manner as well” (141).
Harris describes realism in his 1992 dictionary:
1. The European and American movement, particularly in prose fiction and drama, dating roughly from 1850 to the early decades of the twentieth century, that opposed itself to what we regarded as the sentimental, idealized, or romantic in literature, and especially the novel. 2. Specific techniques, scenes, or local effects in a literary work that produce verisimilitude. 3. A socialist realism, the depiction of the underlying economic and social forces as these were understood by Karl Marx together with suggestions of the ideal socialist world toward which Marx saw history inexorably moving. (323)
The philosophical uses of realism are more complex.
Harris divides point 1. above in: realism of subject matter, realism of structure, realism of language, and realism of total vision. The goal of realism in subject matter is, according to Harris, “to treat the whole life […] including all social classes as supposed to concentration on the upper and middle classes, including the humdrum details of life as well as the crises, and including the unpleasant and previously unmentionable aspects of human existence” (324).
Brecht describes realism in Bloch’s Aesthetics and Politics (1992):
Realistic means: discovering the casual complexes of society / unmasking the prevailing view of things as the view of those who are in power / writing from the standpoint of the class which offers the broadest solutions for the pressing difficulties in which human society is caught up / emphasizing the element of development / making possible the concrete, and making possible abstraction from it. (82)
It is obvious that Brecht’s realism doesn’t focus on questions of form and content, but of function.
Summing up the definitions we can say that American Realism is a movement that started in 1850 and runs to the early decades of the twentieth century and deals with literature and the Gilded Age as well as with art and painting. Some of the most important practitioners are Sarah Orne Jewett, Mark Twain, Henry James, and William Dean Howells. “Vernacular writing by Mark Twain, Sarah Orne Jewett […],” Elliott writes, “is one manifestation of the variously held American theory […] that realistic literature must embody the race, the milieu, and the historical moment of its author” (502).
In the course of any historical thinking about feminism the first idea that occurs is that feminism is, according to Humm, “a social force” (1). The emergence of feminist politics and ideas depends on the understanding that women are less valued than men. Humm says in her 1992 book Feminisms – A Reader that the word feminism can stand for “a belief in sexual equality combined with a commitment to eradicate sexist domination and to transform society” (1).
In America feminism began to grow into a political force in the 1840s. “The women’s rights movement,” Humm writes, “had its origins in their anti-slavery and temperance campaigns and were led by E. C. Stanton and S. B. Anthony” (2). Stanton and Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. This movement inspired other organisations and the oldest and largest feminist organisation in the world, the International Council of Women, was founded in Washington D. C. in 1888. In 1890 both organisations merged to form the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) which gained the support of suffrage activists.
In contrast to Humm’s definition of feminism, Cameron avoids in her 1992 book on Feminism & Linguistic Theory the terms “rights” and “equality” to define feminism. “At a political level,” Cameron writes, “feminism is a movement for the full humanity of women” (4). In her opinion “feminist are ultimately in pursuit of a more radical change, the creation of a world in which one gender does not set the standard of human value” (4). The liberal feminist’s main goal is the free entry of women to traditionally male domain.
In her publication Cameron writes: “As an intellectual approach, feminism seeks to understand how current relations between women and men are constructed – and we take it they are constructed, rather than natural – and in the light of this understanding, how they can be changed” (4). It’s an attempt to describe the conditions of women’s lives. On the one hand women’s achievements and lives need to be put in the picture, on the other hand those conditions need to be theorised. However, feminists have paid attention to the differences between women and men. Some feminists have considered the role of sexuality, other have considered the role of language and its workings. Belonging to the feminist work Cameron writes:
And there is also a good deal of feminist work emphasising the importance of cultural representations of gender – men and women as they appear (in the case of women, don’t appear) in stories, pictures, textbooks, scholarly articles, and so on – in forming the identities of real women and men, their notions of masculinity and femininity, their expectations of what is possible and their ideas of what is normal. (5)
3. A “Woman’s Place” in American Realism
3.1 Local Color and Realism
Sarah Orne Jewett has been accorded a place in the American literary canon. Henry James describes in a 1915 essay, which was reprinted in 1984, the “minor compass” of Sarah Orne Jewett’s art and praises “her beautiful little quantum of achievement” (174). In an essay on The Country of the Pointed Firs, Warner Berthoff concludes in his Fictions and Events, that the book, “with a secure and unrivaled place in the main line of American literary expression,” is “a small work but an unimprovable one” (263). “The consistency and endurance of Jewett’s literary reputation,” Bell writes in his 1993 book on The Problem of American Realism, “make her almost unique among American women fiction writers of the nineteenth century” (175). “As a central figure in the supposed tradition of local color fiction, of regionalism, “Bell goes on, “Jewett has conventionally been categorized as an American realist” (176).
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- University of Koblenz-Landau – Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien - Fach Anglistik
- Sarah Orne Jewett Place American Realism Feminist Beyond Hauptseminar Context