Domestic Goddess Literary Criticism
[Alcott] [Cather] [Chopin] [Gilman] [Jewett] [Beecher-Stowe] [Warner] [Wharton] [others]
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A sample syllabus for teaching several of the authors featured on our site, created by the site's moderator Dr. Priscilla Leder. 

 Louisa May Alcott

Bringing Up Jo: Little Women, Female Rhetorical Activity, and the Nineteenth Century American Conduct Book Tradition essay examining how Jo Alcott's behavior in Little Women fits into the 19th century genre of the Etiquette conduct manual
Transcendental Actress: Louisa May Alcott And The Roles of a Lifetime. This is a Master's Thesis, and as such, is a rather long piece. It has chapters on Alcott's most pivotal work, Little Women,as well as a chapter on "Transcendental Wild Oats" and four of Alcott's pseudonymously published gothic thrillers. The final chapter is a discussion of the various film versions of Little Women.
"Like a Wild Creature in its Cage, Paced that Handsome Woman": The Struggle Between Sentiment and Sensation in the Writings of Louisa May Alcott. Paper explores Alcott's two types of writing. Concludes that her subversive sensational stories not only defied nineteenth-century values of womanhood, but also rebelled against the teachings of her father, Bronson Alcott, who believed in traditional "femininity" and sentimentalism, in a search for human perfectionism.
The Makings Of A Mom: The Maternal Voice Of Louisa May Alcott. This paper examines Alcott's handling and perceptions of motherhood-- in various works as well as in her personal life. A biographical critique that sheds light on how a "spinster" like Alcott could write such great mothering roles.
Blood, Guts And Glory: Soldiers And Nurses in The Civil War. This paper deals briefly with Alcott's Civil War story, "Hospital Sketches." It has a number of excellent quotations from soldier & nurse's personal accounts of the war, and though it isn't totally about one of our Domestic Goddesses, it makes good reading for an understanding of the context that many of these writers were writing in.
A Guide to Research: Louisa May Alcott a research/bibliographic guide to works by and about Louisa May Alcott. An excellent place to start any research project on Alcott, this lists major critical works on LMA, plus sources for texts online.



Willa Cather

A Guide to Research: Willa Cather a research/bibliographic guide to works by and about Willa Cather. An excellent place to start any research project on Cather, this lists major critical works, biographies, bibliographies, plus sources for texts online.

My Ántonia: A Survey of Critical Attitudes. This is a short, general, and somewhat informal overview of the critical reaction to Cather's most domesticated of novels, from its first reviews to modern discussions.
Magic Realism and the Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin and Willa Cather. A study of Sarah Orne Jewett's "The Foreigner," Kate Chopin's "An Egyptian Cigarette" and Willa Cather's "The Enchanted Bluff" in the context of Magic Realism-- do they or do they not fit within this style of re-writing reality?
Hired Girls and Country Doctors: Working Women in the Domestic Fiction of Sarah Orne Jewett and Willa Cather. This paper analyzes Cather's My Ántonia and Jewett's A Country Doctor for their attitudes about women who work outside the home.
"In a New Country": Women and Nation in My Ántonia. Many critics have considered Willa Cather's My Ántonia from a gender perspective. This paper argues that such readings often neglect to consider Cather's commentary on nation-building, which is also present in the text. In My Ántonia, Cather highlights the central role of women in forging a community, and by extension in negotiating a fledgling national consciousness, by illustrating the unconstructedness of "nation" on the American frontier and the female characters' ability to resist the influence of the dominant American culture. 


Kate Chopin

Maternal Influence and Children in Kate Chopin's Short Fiction. "A theme to which Chopin returned throughout her career is the dilemma of desire versus duty, self-realization versus socially sanctioned self-sacrifice. Motherhood and children often serve to emphasize a woman's self-deprivation, but there are also cases where a woman can achieve self-actualization realization through motherhood and caring for children. Some of Chopin's most famous works illustrate the writer's preoccupation with this paradoxical phenomenon." This thesis is applied to such short stories as "A Pair of Silk Stockings," "Désirée's Baby," "Athénaise," "Regret," "Polydore, and even looks at The Awakening.
Next Stop-- Paradise: An analysis of setting in The Awakening. A pretty straightforward analysis of the way setting influences Edna Pontellier's changes. Focuses solely on a close reading of the text rather than outside research, but provides some interesting insights into a possible understanding of Chopin's text.
A Guide to Research: Kate Chopin. A bibligraphic guide to major works by and about Kate Chopin. Designed to help interested parties find critical research on Chopin.
"Necessarily Vague": Kate Chopin's Gender-Awakening. A discussion of the attempts that Edna makes in The Awakening to move towards a liberating androgyny and the ultimate impossibility of a true freedom for her via that path.
Kate Chopin's Ecofeminism: A Dialogue Between The Awakening & Contemporary Women. This paper, written for a women's studies conference, addresses issues of the newly emerging "Ecofeminism" as they apply to Chopin's most famous work. Good scholarship and a well-written style make this paper a good place to look at the way scholars apply new tricks to old texts.
Kate Chopin's "Lilacs" and "Two Portraits": Examples of Catholic Sensibility or Modernism? A paper which examines two of Chopin's religiously themed short stories in an attempt to place them into a viable critical category.
Writing the 'Solitary Soul': Anticipations of Modernism and Negotiations of Gender in Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Discusses the way in which The Awakening embodies elements of Modernism, foreshadowing the major movement in literature that dominated the early 20th century.
Kate Chopin's The Awakening: a Critical Reception.  A study of the various critical reactions to Chopin's most famous work, beginning before the story's release and proceeding forward.
The Awakening and the Yellow Wallpaper: An intertextual Comparison of the Conventional Connotations of Marriage and Propriety. A feminist reading of Chopin & Gilman from the standpoint of their works' power as socio-political and defining texts.
The Awakened One: A Buddhist reading of The Awakening. One of the most original readings I have seen of this novel. This is an interesting paper from a new perspective and it is very thought-provoking.
Magic Realism and the Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin and Willa Cather. A study of Sarah Orne Jewett's "The Foreigner," Kate Chopin's "An Egyptian Cigarette" and Willa Cather's "The Enchanted Bluff" in the context of Magic Realism-- do they or do they not fit within this style of re-writing reality?


  Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper": A Poetics of the Inside. A combination of a psychological reading and an analysis of setting; this excellent paper explores how the interior space of Gilman's short story interrogates the story's explorations of control and intimacy.
Feminism in Herland: a Utopian Vision of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This paper examines Gilman's utopic novel, looking at education, language and sex roles in this feminist civilization.
Something Queer about It: Queerness in "The Yellow Wall-paper" This paper considers a number of "readings in queer theory. [. . .] feminist theorists’ [. . .] Gilman’s relationship with S. Weir Mitchell. [. . .] Panopticism as a method of social control. [and the] psychological perspective on the story.
The Awakening and the Yellow Wallpaper: An intertextual Comparison of the Conventional Connotations of Marriage and Propriety. A feminist reading of Chopin & Gilman from the standpoint of their works' power as socio-political and defining texts.
A Biblograhpic Guide to Research on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A scholarly guide to a large number of works by Gilman and about Gilman. Includes summary of findings and listing of major collections and criticism.

Sarah Orne Jewett

A Revisitation of Transcendentalism within Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs.  Argues that Sarah Orne Jewett writes out of the tradition of Emersonian transcendentalism that so radically changed the face of nineteenth century philosophy and politics, and that Jewett's infusion of womanhood and community throughout The Country of the Pointed Firs offers a subtle twist to this tradition.
Magic Realism and the Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin and Willa Cather. A study of Sarah Orne Jewett's "The Foreigner," Kate Chopin's "An Egyptian Cigarette" and Willa Cather's "The Enchanted Bluff" in the context of Magic Realism-- do they or do they not fit within this style of re-writing reality?
Hired Girls and Country Doctors: Working Women in the Domestic Fiction of Sarah Orne Jewett and Willa Cather. This paper analyzes Cather's My Ántonia and Jewett's A Country Doctor for their attitudes about women who work outside the home.

Note: check out the Jewett essay at this link, by Jessica Amanda Salmonson-- not a part of my domestic goddess collection here, but well worth looking at.  

 Harriet Beecher Stowe

In and Out of the Kitchen: Women's Work and Networks in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction. This long essay explores "the cult of domesticity as best illustrated by the kitchen imagery in Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. It contrasts Stowe's imagery and philosophy of womanhood with the representation of slave, working class, and upper class women in other works of domestic fiction of that period". Works that this essay explores besides Stowe's are: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1851), Work: A Story of Experience by Louisa May Alcott (1873), The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1908), The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (first published in 1881, revised 1908), "The Tartarus of Maids" by Herman Melville (1855), "Life in the Iron Mills" by Rebecca Harding Davis (1861), Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern (Sara Willis Parton), (1855), Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868), and A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett. An excellent description of domesticity, with wide-ranging examples. This is a great essay for someone who wants to know what connects the authors on this site to each other, and to the larger body of American Victorian Literature.
Between the Rhetoric of Abolition and Feminism: Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. A paper that examines whether Stowe's most famous novel fits as a "feminist" text; has a good definition of Victorian feminism and an analysis of several of Stowe's women characters.
Acts of the Imagination and Apocalyptic Role Playing in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Constructions of Byron. This paper examines Stowe's relationships with the Byrons, including her literary defense of Lady Byron, which Stowe considered Lady Byron's autobiography.


 Susan Bogert Warner

Susan Warner's Wide Wide World: The Despair Way to Heaven This paper defines the 19th century tradition of "Sentimentalism" and sentimental literature and examines both how Warner's text fits within that tradition and what the impact of Sentimentalism had upon American culture.

Edith Wharton

Seasons of Stasis, Moments of Movement: Seasonal Imagery in Wharton, Le Guin, and Johnson.  An interesting paper which critiques Wharton in comparison to two modern women writers. Its thesis is that as women's lives have traditionally been more in tune with seasonal change, "each novelist, while depicting the movement necessary to build a story arc, sets this movement within a larger context of circularity and sameness, represented for each by the recurring seasons."
Walter Pater's Renaissance and Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence article which discusses Pater's influence on Wharton's characters.
The Age of Ornament. A feminist critique of The House of Mirth exploring the effects of a purely "ornamental" status for women, through an analysis of the character Lily Bart.
Mythological Versions of May and Ellen: a Reading of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. How can women become powerful in a society which resisted change and the empowerment of women? This paper argues that, in The Age of Innocence, Wharton solves this problem by using mythological references to empower May and Ellen in a world where they cannot otherwise achieve complete power or control.  

Related Issues

This section is a listing of domestic women writers who are not also featured on the site. The authors' will range from the same period as the above (Victorian) to modern women writers who could be considered domestic (because of subject matter or setting of their stories; i.e., if an author writes about 19th century women.

Virtue, Housekeeping, and Domestic Space in Pauline Hopkins' Contending Forces "Heavily influenced by Claudia Tate's work on black women writers of the late nineteenth-century, this essay uses conduct books and articles on colored people's advancement from the Colored American Magazine to contextualize the kind of discourses about domesticity within which Pauline Hopkins, an African-American domestic writer, works. The paper also addresses more generally what virtue, womanhood, "woman's sphere," and domesticity meant to women (white and black) and the reasons for their importance within the black community
"Whispering Opposition": Jovita González' Caballero and (Anti)assimilation. A paper that examines a modern women writer from Texas whose novel about the Spanish hacienda system just as Texas became part of the US, because of its multiple domestic references and setting in the mid-nineteenth century, could be qualified as domestic.
"Written by Herself:" Harriet Jacobs And The Failure of Ideologies. This paper explores how, among others, the ideaology of the cult of true womanhood and domesticity often failed women who did not fit into its narrow definition of middle-class social standing. Harriet Jacobs, as a slave and then former slave, is aware of how "ideology" has failed her, and this paper examines this phenomenon in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

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last update: May 2003