Downwardly Mobile: The Changing Fortunes of American Realism

ISBN : 9780199828050

Andrew Lawson
208 Pages
163 x 239 mm
Pub date
May 2012
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Downwardly Mobile explores the links between a growing sense of economic precariousness within the American middle class and the development of literary realism over the course of the nineteenth century by Rose Terry Cooke, Rebecca Harding Davis, William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Hamlin Garland. The book argues that, in each of these writers, the opacity and abstraction of social relationships in an expanding market economy combined with a sense of pervasive insecurity to produce a "hunger for the real" - a commitment to a mimetic literature capable of stabilizing the social world by capturing it with a new sharpness and accuracy. The book relocates the origins of literary realism in the antebellum period and a structure of feeling based in the residual household economy which prized the virtues of the local, the particular, and the concrete, against the alienating abstractions of the emerging market. In a parallel line of argument, the book explores the ways in which sympathetic identification with lower-class figures served to locate American realist authors in a confused and shifting social space.


Introduction: A Hunger for the Real
1. Rose Terry Cooke and the Roots of Realist Taste
2. Rebecca Harding Davis and the Failed Genteel Father
3. The Artist of the Floating World: William Dean Howells
4. The Rentier Aesthetics of Henry James
5. Hamlin Garland's Vertical Vision
Coda: White Collar Blues

About the author: 

Andrew Lawson is a lecturer in English at Leeds Metropolitan University. He is the author of Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle.

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