Journal Articles

December 2007 - Vol.38/No.1
Local-Color Literature and Modernity: The Example of Jewett
Author : Josephine Donovan
Keywords : local-color literature, modernity, colonialism, Jewett
Affirming local difference in the face of the ideological colonizations of modernity, local-color literature may be seen, it is argued, as one manifestation of a widespread cultural resistance to its impositions. Beginning with Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth, local-color writers found themselves on the cusp between the premodern region, to which they were emotionally attached, and the power/knowledges of modernity, in which (by virtue of their class) they were schooled. The work of American writer Sarah Orne Jewett similarly displays an intimate and affectionate knowledge of her New England region, at the same time reflecting the perspective of one who is aware of the formations of modernity and who represents the local in counterposition to them. Local-colorists thus evince the “double vision” characteristic of the postcolonial author who has one eye on the hegemonic audience and the other on their native subjects. Translating from the latter to the former is what local-color literature does.
Linguistic Regionalism and the Emergence of Chinese American Literature in Sui Sin Far’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance
Author : Marjorie Pryse
Keywords : American literary regionalism, Chinese immigrant experience, Asian American literature
Beginning by suggesting that Sui Sin Far/Edith Maude Eaton (1865–1914) readily fits none of the categories recent critics have established within Chinese American literature, this essay situates her as a regionalist writer whose work demonstrates her struggle against mainstream representations of the Chinese in the late nineteenth-century American press and who achieves artistic form and a strategy for helping her readers see differently through her use of the English language in Mrs. Spring Fragrance. The key to understanding Sui Sin Far’s contribution to American literature lies in analyzing her use of English in this volume that serves as the culmination of her career. Writing what Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse have called “language on the border land” (192), or what I am calling in this essay the linguistic bicultural, Sui Sin Far, after years of struggle, discovers in the structures of English itself how to represent the Chinese experience in America. She refashions English in such a way both as to reflect that experience and to demonstrate her immigrant characters’ consciousness of the ways the English language encodes a dominance that reflects U.S. politics of the period. The essay contrasts Sui Sin Far’s regionalism with “local color” representations of the Chinese in the writings of Bret Harte, and offers a linguistic reading of several stories in Mrs. Spring Fragrance—“Mrs. Spring Fragrance,” “The Inferior Woman,” “In the Land of the Free,” “The Wisdom of the New,” “The Americanizing of Pau Tsu,” and “‘Its Wavering Image.’”
Exile and Home Again: Postwar Fiction of the American South
Author : Jeffrey J. Folks
Keywords : southern fiction, American regionalism, postwar southern fiction, postmodern southern fiction, Vietnam fiction, contemporary American regional politics
Robert Penn Warren’s fiction reveals the tension, perhaps not fully apparent even to Warren himself, between an identification with and sense of exile from the South. It may seem that this tension between alienation and return has been dispelled in the writing of the most recent generation, that of Bobbie Ann Mason, Clyde Edgerton, Jill McCorkle, Andre Dubus, and Mary Hood, yet recent divisions between “red” and “blue” states would seem to attest to enduring regional affiliations. Focusing on three recent southern writers—William Styron, Richard Ford, and Bobbie Ann Mason—this paper argues that the postwar generation of southern writers assert their identity by way of their rejection of traditional regional identity, yet this rejection may not reflect the historical regional divisions that continue to exist in American society. Like Robert Penn Warren, postwar southern writers, whether they wish to do so or not, continue to write from the posture of the “loneliness” artist trapped between the extremes of exile and home.
Literary Regionalism and the Confinements of Class: A Revisionist Historical Reading of Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun
Author : David M. Jones
Keywords : American Literature, regionalism in literature, African American literature—women authors, feminism in literature, Harlem Renaissance—women authors
Jessie Fauset’s 1929 novel Plum Bun has never achieved the level of notoriety and critical acclaim of major novels by her Harlem Renaissance colleagues such as Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. In fact, the novel has been derided at times by major voices in African American literary criticism such as Robert Bone and Barbara Christian. Fauset’s use of a passing plot has been judged by some critics to be overly sentimental and unrepresentative of wider African American experiences, given the assumption that relatively few African Americans have the capability to pass for white. However, the novel has been treated more positively in the last two decades for several reasons, such as an increased interest in African American women’s fiction (including renewed critical appreciation of marriage plots), and the recent influence of critical race studies, which complicates the assumption that any specific standpoint can genuinely “represent” African American experience. This essay adds a new perspective to the growing body of criticism on the text by highlighting the novel’s compelling qualities as a work of literary regionalism. The novel’s initial setting in a middle class African American enclave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, provides an insightful historical treatment of race and class distinctions in that milieu. Because the protagonist, Angela Murray, moves from the historically black middle-class community of Philadelphia to the bohemian, fine art-inflected culture of Greenwich Village in the 1920s, additional insights about race and class interactions in the era of the New Woman are provided for the reader. This essay notes that regionalism as a literary standpoint emerged later in African American literary history than it had in mainstream American literature, and the novel’s treatment of regionalism illustrates the instability of racial identity even during the era of legal segregation.
Ethnic Regionalism in American Literature: The Case of Sicilian/American Writers
Author : Chiara Mazzucchelli
Keywords : literature, regionalism, ethnic, identity, Italian-American, Sicilian-American, Italian, Sicilian, Jerre Mangione, sicilianamericanità
Throughout the 1900s, the sense of a distinct Sicilian-ness manifested itself in a corpus of texts by Italian authors such as Giovanni Verga, Luigi Pirandello, Leonardo Sciascia, Vincenzo Consolo, and Andrea Camilleri, just to mention a few. Interestingly, a parallel phenomenon seems to have emerged in the United States. While attempting to redefine the concept of Americanness and expand the canon of American literature so that it embraces articulations of ethnic identities, many Sicilian-American writers have turned their works into literary manifestations of ethnic regionalism. In this essay, I have tried to answer questions such as: Why and how have many Sicilian and Sicilian-American writers engaged in literary regionalism? How did a sense of Sicilian-ness develop in the US, and turn into Sicilian Americanness, or as I have called it sicilianamericanità? Ultimately, I suggest that the construction of a regional ethnic identity in American literature functions as a discourse that aims to question the reduction of the complex fabric of a population to a homogenous version of national identity, be it “American” or “Italian.” Seen from this perspective, a seemingly particularistic study on sicilianamericanità could provide scholars of literary studies with precious insights about the meaning of cultural constructions of national identities and literatures.
Regional Literature as a Mirror: Reflecting Back onto the Region and Out into the Wider World
Author : Per Henningsgaard
Keywords : regional literature, regionalism, Australian literature, Western Australia, Western Australian literature, minority literature, book publishing
Regional literature can be of enormous national or international cultural value. In fact, many of the works that are accorded the highest cultural value and understood as part of the canon of national literature in Australia, are also arguably works of regional literature. However, regional literature usually appeals only to a very small audience—namely, the residents of the particular region in which the work is set, or with which it is concerned. In this article, I detail the ways in which regional literature can reflect the region—and the residents of that region—back onto itself. However, I also consider the ways in which regional literature is read by individuals residing outside of the region in question. Just as when you stand in front of the bathroom mirror, a certain image of yourself is reflected back to you, and when someone stands just over your shoulder, they see an ever so slightly different reflection of you—so it is with regional literature. I analyse the similarities and the differences between these two perceptions by first looking backwards to the history of the debates about regionalism and regional literature in Australia. These debates pitted those in favor of regionalism against those in favor of nationalism, internationalism, and even universalism; they also revealed rifts between writers, who were some of the most outspoken proponents of a regional conception of Australia, and the postmodern theories of academics. Then, I look forward to speculate on the future of regional literature in an increasingly globalised society and publishing industry.
Gender Configurations in Women from the Lake of Scented Souls: Male Feminism and Its Limitation
Author : Zuyan Zhou
Keywords : male Feminism, marginal man, allegorical intent, emotional empathy, malicious matriarch, feministic concern, feminist point of view, literary stereotype
Although critics have traced inscriptions of feminist consciousness in the works of modern male writers, such as Mao Dun, Lu Xun, Rou Shi, Bai Xianyong and Huang Chunming, they indicate a constant condescending attitude, ambivalence, uneasiness and allegorical use of women in such writings, which mitigate their feminist intent. Feminist theory indicates that it is the distance between the male intellectuals as privileged “investigators” and the underprivileged female “objects” of their investigation that prevents them from speaking with an unadulterated feminist voice. Can a man imbued with Confucian values produce genuine feminist works? The modern Chinese film Women from the Lake of Scented Souls (1993) seems to provide a positive answer, though with some reservation. The film is adapted from a novella based on the life experience of the novelist Zhou Daxin, whose tragic failure in his first love engendered deep empathy for his high school sweet heart, and then women in general. The deprivation of women’s sexual rights that Zhou laments in his novella mirrors his own loss. The spiritual kinship between the male “investigator” and his female “object” enables him to present an ardent plea for women’s salvation from a genuine feminist position. However, when Zhou turns to portray the heroine Huan-huan’s victimizer, the vicious Sister Gao, he subconsciously succumbs to the conventional stereotype of malicious matriarch, that compromises the feminist intent of his work. Ambivalence also features the gender stance of Xie Fei, a screen auteur noted for his sympathetic portrayal of women in his films. While Xie artistically creates a feminist point of view on the screen with his cinematography to reinforce the feminist strength of his film, it is, however, unintentionally weakened in his attempt to allegorize his tale. To project his view that China is enslaved by the feudalistic values that it refuses to give away, and to transform his heroine into a cinematic personification of China, he deliberately creates a “flaw” in Huan-huan’s perception which leads to her own ruin. In so doing, however, the zero distance between the male investigator and the female object in Zhou’s novella gives way to a condescending distance in Xie’s film, which results in weakening his feminist position. In the large context of male feminism in modern Chinese literature, this study indicates both the possibility of genuine male feminism and the causes of its limitation. While personal experience, injury of personal interest, political/ideological alienation and liberal outlook may lead male scholars to take a genuine feminist stand, they tend to shift to traditional positions when their personal interest is uninvolved, as shown in Zhou’s acquiescence of the misogynist stereotype of malicious matriarch and Xie’s instinctive inclination for allegorical use of women. This limits the feminism in their works.
Untangling the Allegory: The Genuine and the Counterfeit in Xiyou zhengdao shu (The book to enlightenment of the journey west)
Author : Carl A. Robertson
Keywords : Xiyou ji, Xiyou zhengdao shu, commentary, allegory, figure, Zhang Boduan, Jin Shengtan, Daoist transformation, genuine, zhen, jia, poetics
The history of criticism of Xiyou ji (Journey to the West) throughout the twentieth century has been a debate over the nature of the allegory of the story cycle. Without more evidence on the foundation of the text and a growing criticism of Xiyou ji as a multivalent story, the early commentaries on Xiyou ji are now more relevant. The first major commentary, Xiyou zhengdao shu (The book to enlightenment of the journey west) argues in depth for an allegorical reading of Xiyou ji, but employs tools from two ostensibly incompatible source texts, the Wuzhen pian (On apprehending completion) by Zhang Boduan and the commentary of Shuihu zhuan (Account of the water margin) by Jin Shengtan. The commentary reveals its varied reliance upon these sources and provides for an eventual compatibility by the usage of the paired terms for the genuine (zhen) and the counterfeit (jia). The meanings and references of these terms and even the complementarity itself are read variously in the commentary, but taken as a fluid poetics of signification, the idea of the genuine establishes a solid foundation of the allegorical reliance on a transformable self and hence an idea of reading for personal transformation. Subsequent uses of the terms for the genuine and its complement, such as found in Honglou meng (Dream of red mansions) may have received a telling contribution from the transformational framework of Xiyou zhengdao shu.