Date of Award

1984

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

This dissertation is a study of minor Louisiana women novelists from the end of the Civil War to the passage of women's suffrage. A large number of Louisiana women were spurred to write novels by the war and Reconstruction, motivated by both financial considerations and the need to explain their lives. They use conventional forms, like the plantation romance, but the stories they tell suggest that women were ambivalent about Southern traditions and the old order. In breaking down the social codes which both protected and repressed Louisiana women, the Civil War and the Reconstruction led Louisiana women novelists to reconsider the values they had inherited, and even, implicitly at least, to challenge traditional female roles. Although they often seem to have loved the men who perpetuated it, they rebelled against a repressive social structure. In projecting their internal resentments and anxieties in fiction, they were not essentially different from many nineteenth-century women writers. But unlike, say, women writers in New York, or in Yorkshire, Louisiana women writers lived in a defeated patriarchal society founded on the subjection of blacks and on the cult of ideal white womanhood. This society confronted them with parallels to and metaphors for their condition. While their explorations of the issues of freedom and autonomy are frequently tentative and veiled, close examination of plot and characterization reveals that women writers in Louisiana identified the condition of women generally with the suppression and dehumanization of blacks and mulattoes, especially mulatto women. Elizabeth Bisland Wetmore, however, the best novelist in the group of writers considered in this study, transcended the inhibited approach to the feminine situation in the South. Her work moves the Southern woman's uneasy rebellion against traditional conformity into the dimension of overt irony and wit.

Pages

204

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