The dawn of the twentieth century saw the birth of the New Woman, a cultural and literary ideal that replaced Victorian expectations of domesticity with visions of social, political, and economic autonomy. Although such writers as Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin treated these ideals in well-known literature of that era, marginalized women also explored changing gender roles in works that deserve more attention today.
This book is the first study to focus solely on multiethnic women writers' responses to the ideal of the New Woman in America, opening up a world of literary texts that provide new insight into the phenomenon. Charlotte Rich reveals how these authors uniquely articulated the contradictions of the American New Woman, and how social class, race, or ethnicity impacted women's experiences of both public and private life in the Progressive era.
Rich focuses on the work of writers representing five distinct ethnicities: Native Americans S. Alice Callahan and Mourning Dove, African American Pauline Hopkins, Chinese American Sui Sin Far, Mexican American María Cristina Mena, and Jewish American Anzia Yezierska. She shows that some oftheir works contain both affirmative and critical portraits of white New Women; in other cases, while these authorsalign their multiethnic heroines with the new ideals, those ideals are sometimes subordinated to more urgent dialogues about inequality and racial violence.
Through her insightful analysis, Rich presents alternative versions of female autonomy, with characters living outside the mainstream or moving between cultures. Transcending the New Woman offers multiple ways of transcending an ideal that was problematic in its exclusivity, as well as an entrée to forgotten works. It shows how the concept of the New Woman can be seen in newly complex ways when viewed through the writings of authors whose lives often embody the New Woman's emancipatory goals—and whose fictions both affirm and complicateher aspirations.
Charlotte J. Rich — Charlotte J. Rich is Associate Professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University.
Rich, Charlotte J. Transcending the new woman: multiethnic narratives in the Progressive Era. Missouri, 2009. 230p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780826218261. Reviewed in 2009jul CHOICE.
In this fascinating, informative study, Rich (Eastern Kentucky Univ.) eloquently reimagines and extends the definition of the "new woman" in American cultural and literary history during the Progressive Era. Traditional examinations have perpetuated the ideological construct of the new woman by focusing primarily on white, middle-class, educated, (often) married women who were politically savvy and economically self-sufficient. Whereas other critics have noted the limitations of the conventional definition, Rich breaks new ground by exposing the inherent contradictions in the "progressive" movement and by arguing that multiethnic authors, who have traditionally been marginalized, are a vital part of the still-evolving equation. The author focuses on writers representing five different ethnicities: S. Alice Callahan and Mourning Dove (Native American); Pauline Hopkins (African American); Sui Sin Far (Chinese American); María Cristina Mena (Mexican American); and Anzia Yezierska (Jewish American). Skillfully illustrating her argument, she points out that though the writings of these women "often embody the emancipatory goals of the New Woman," at the same time they reveal the limitations of the ideal and engage "the cultural dialogue of turn-of-the-century feminism with priorities [informed by] their own experiences of race and class."
Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. -- D. D. Knight, SUNY College at Cortland