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Modernism at the margins: De -forming sentimentalism in Mourning Dove, Virginia Woolf, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Gertrude Stein

Justine S Dymond, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Literary modernism created a radical break from nineteenth-century forms. This dissertation focuses on how we might perceive a different kind of “break” in novelists of the modernist era who use traditional forms associated with women: the marriage plot and the sentimental romance. By reading writers at the margins of modernism—Mourning Dove and Jessie Redmon Fauset—this study pushes modernism itself to the margins. Similar to canonical modernists such as Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein, form is the substance of these marginalized writers' novels. And, in this sense, their novelistic critiques of modernity in form are experimental and yet remain different than exclusive understandings of formal experimentation in canonical modernism. I read Woolf and Stein alongside Mourning Dove and Fauset to explore the resonances amongst all four writers' linguistic and phenomenological experiments and their de-formations and re-formations of sentimental subjectivity. As inheritors of the sentimental tradition, Woolf and Stein belonged to the literary family they rebelled against. How do writers positioned outside that tradition, by virtue of its construction of race and class difference, join modernism's departure from nineteenth-century forms? As cultural outsiders, Mourning Dove and Fauset must first enable their heroines to inhabit the sentimental tradition in order to critique and dismantle modernity's interwoven legacy of colonialism and gendered subjectivity. Reading Woolf and Stein from the perspective of Mourning Dove and Fauset, we see afresh not only the project all these authors share but also the way the latter explore geographical and ontological shadows left untouched by the former. Though Woolf s and Stein's writings more fundamentally rearrange the phenomenological landscape of language, they have more in common with the other two writers than at first glance. All of them create disorientation for readers who don't relinquish conventional modes of reading. They respond to modernity's understanding of the subject by questioning the conventional boundaries of the self, and they re-envision the temporal and spatial dimensions of intersubjectivity as these overlap with social categories. An understanding of the legacy of modernity in the long view enables us to see where these authors meet in the short view of early twentieth-century fiction.

Subject Area

American literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Dymond, Justine S, "Modernism at the margins: De -forming sentimentalism in Mourning Dove, Virginia Woolf, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Gertrude Stein" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136723.