Date of Award

8-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Second Advisor

Janet Gabler-Hover

Third Advisor

Mark Noble

Abstract

This dissertation considers how American women writers responded to the changing perceptions about feminine nature, to an increasingly modern society, and to the shifting religious landscape in nineteenth-century America. The complex relationship between nineteenth-century women and religion is firmly illustrated in the works of three writers who were widely read during their time and yet have a very limited readership today: Mary Hallock Foote, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Gertrude Bonnin, also known as Zitkala-Ša. Each figure held a prominent position in the high-literary establishment of the late nineteenth century, and I show how each experimented with regional and sentimental literary conventions in order to entertain and appeal to a readership largely dominated by urban, upper-middle-class women. I argue that each of these writers constructed shared regional spaces and articulated spiritual values of place in order to dramatize differences between rural and urban cultures, to reflect concerns about America’s increasingly industrial, materialistic, and cosmopolitan mainstream society, and to create an anti-modern argument for a society grounded in Christian beliefs and practices. Despite the variety of their religious backgrounds and experiences, these writers all depict nuanced versions of Protestant tradition that both reflect the malleability of cultural religious constructions and re-assert Christian values of love, equality, family, and community. Moreover, through their descriptions of place—of the beauty, grandeur, isolation, and inherent risk of the natural world—these writers reveal phenomenological experiences and illuminate intricate connections between religion, place, and culture that contemporary scholars of religion and geography have only recently begun to explore.

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