Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Susan V Donaldson


This is a study of five novels written by American women during the middle of the nineteenth century. The novels are Aunt Phillis's Cabin (1852) by Mary Henderson Eastman, Northwood (1827 and 1852) by Sarah Josepha Hale, The Planter's Northern Bride (1854) by Carolyn Lee Hentz, Macaria (1864) by Augusta Evans, and Cameron Hall (1867) by Mary Anne Cruse. In advancing their authors' opinions on sectional issues like slavery and secession, these novels make overt political statements of a kind not usually associated with writers of domestic fiction.;All of the novels in this study conform in some ways to the conventions of the domestic fiction genre, but the authors have bent the framework of that genre to accommodate their political purposes. In some cases genric practices and polemics are mutually disruptive; in some they reinforce each other; and in some the authors choose between politics and domesticity. The degree to which domestic fiction is incompatible with a traditional world view shows that genres are not ideologically neutral. In examining the adaptations made by five novelists, this dissertation demonstrates that "genre" is not a static category. Instead, genres respond to cultural and historical forces.;To read mid-nineteenth-century novels written by women only from a gynocritical perspective--that is, for what they say about women's psychological or social realities--is to miss the way fiction reflects and helps to shape broader political concerns. More nuanced readings of domestic fiction show how a genre associated with women writers and readers became inflected to advance the authors' political opinions. Reading these novels as political-domestic fiction contributes to an ongoing discussion of how American women have always participated in politics.



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