Date of Degree
Nancy K. Miller
American Art and Architecture | American Literature | Women's Studies
American modernism, Fannie Hurst, Nella Larsen, Edith Summers Kelley, Interdisciplinary
The rising field of new modernisms continues to breathe new life into the literature of marginalized writers of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. By imagining modernism as a series of modes and strategies, and expanding the axes upon which we map modernism’s boundaries, we make way for writers who were shut out by the often imbalanced, limited modernism of the past and illuminate the field with new possibilities. This dissertation takes part in this exciting, vibrant conversation by identifying a mode of modernism present in the literature of three early twentieth-century women writers, who all used visual art techniques to incorporate biographical interests into their literature, thereby strengthening and invigorating their work. Relying on new modernist theories proffered by Rebecca Walkowitz, Douglas Mao, and Paul Saint-Amour, this dissertation takes new approaches to the lives and literature of writers Fannie Hurst, Edith Summers Kelley, and Nella Larsen.
The dissertation explores the way each writer harnessed techniques of a visual art practice to respond to biographical preoccupations. Hurst, writer and political activist, engages collage to use her literature to “react and protest” against America’s political climate and the rapidly evolving socioeconomics of New York City in the early 1900s. Back-to-the-land traveler and mother of three, Edith Summers Kelley, employs techniques of modern photography to reach across America and find the “great and deep humanity” that connects us all; and Nella Larsen—biracial, bicontinental, a woman with multiple careers and lives—enacts aesthetics of painting to explore the (in)visibility of women in a developing global and social climate. Each reading aspires to illuminate the literature of these women, the vital glowing things each one has left for her readers. In doing so, the dissertation contributes to the emerging work of new modernisms.
Decker, Elizabeth C., "“Vital Glowing Things”: The Art of Women’s Writing, 1910-1935" (2016). CUNY Academic Works.