Modernist Geographies

Space in the Fiction of Willa Cather, Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein
  • Willa Cather
  • Djuna Barnes
  • Gertrude Stein


If an anthropologist were to consider late nineteenth-century American society, she would note the central role played by the organisation of space in that culture. The Victorian ‘female world of love and ritual’ praised by many feminists might well have had a radical edge, and it certainly allowed for a greater range of emotional expressiveness than stereotypes of nineteenth-century stuffiness would suggest; yet it was also a confined world of the interior, of sitting-rooms and parlours. It is a cliché, but also a truth, that nineteenth-century American literary culture associated the open spaces of a new country (frontier, sea, wilderness) with freedom, while female culture was locked within the home (often constructed, as in Huckleberry Finn, in terms of a tyrannical space ruled by womanly culture’s petty rules). Women themselves, of course, often explored the home as a site of emotional plenitude and a sentimental politics of renewal (as in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin). And historians such as Ann Douglas have pointed to the ‘feminisation’ of American society as these values gradually took on a wider resonance and importance. But a time was bound to come when women would want to break out, in their writings and their lives, from this relentless association between themselves and the home.


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Copyright information

© Guy Reynolds 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Willa Cather
  • Djuna Barnes
  • Gertrude Stein

There are no affiliations available

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