Images of men: Male characters in Catharine Maria Sedgwick's "Hope Leslie", Caroline Kirkland's "A New Home", "Who'll follow?", Fanny Fern's "Ruth Hall", and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' "The Story of Avis"

Date

1998-08

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Publisher

Texas Tech University

Abstract

In the past thirty years, long forgotten volumes of nineteenth-century woman's fiction have been exhumed, revived and examined. The primary focus of the examinations has been on the women who wrote them, the women who filled their pages, and the women who read them. Until now, the men who inhabit these works have received only cursory notice. The purpose of this study is to explore the male characters in nineteenth-century American woman's fiction, to unveil men as women saw them, as they created them, and as they wanted them to be. The works selected for this study are Catharine Maria Sedgwick's "Hope Leslie", a historical romance, set in the Colonial period, depicting two unconventional heroines; Caroline Kirkland's "A New Home". "Who'll Follow?", a book of sketches portraying the life and the people on the Michigan frontier; Fanny Fern's "Ruth Hall", a bitter sweet story of a woman's quest for success; and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' "The Story of Avis", the story of a promising woman artist, who sacrifices her career for the love of a man. Prototypes used as a basis for the examination of the male characters include the patriarchal male, the poseur, the valiant male, and the new man. The patriarchal system prevailed in the nineteenth century, and although all of the male characters are part of that system, the predominant male character type in woman's literature is the patriarchal male. A more malignant male is the poseur, who ranges from a mere dandy to a despicable miscreant. The valiant male performs heroic acts, some nominal and some profound, for the heroine. He may admire her, but he has no marital aspirations for her. The new man is the beau ideal of these novelists. This character seeks equality in a marriage relationship, and he promotes independence in women. Though eagerly sought, the new man proves elusive. Sedgwick, Kirkland, Fern, and Phelps, through their male characters, condemn the oppression of the patriarchal system, indict the poseur, valorize the nobility of the heroic in men, and give birth to the concept of the new man. The task of developing the new man into maturity, they bestow on the next generation.

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Keywords

Men in literature, Fern, Fanny, 1811-1872. Ruth Hall, Women and literature -- History and criticism -- 19th century, Women authors, Kirkland, Caroline M. (Caroline Matilda), 1801-1864. New home, Who’ll follow?, Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, 1844-1911. Story of Avis, Sedgwick, Catherine Maria, 1789-1867. Hope Leslie

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