Bourgeois Radicalism and the American Social-Realist Novel 1860-1910
Kimmet, Sarah Katherine
Mallios, Peter L
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William Dean Howells and other social realists of the late nineteenth century have often fallen victim to late-twentieth-century critics' dismissal of American novelists who seem insufficiently aware of the extent to which their convictions are complicit in the bourgeois liberal ideology they purport to condemn. In this project I attempt to bring some nuance to this perspective by arguing that the "conservative" elements of social-realists' sociopolitical agendas stem from their allegiance to an older form of American bourgeois culture, republicanism, which they are attempting to reinterpret for the industrial age. After establishing the basic tenants of republicanism as articulated in America during the late eighteenth century, I examine individual novels by Rebecca Harding Davis, Howells, Abraham Cahan and Charles W. Chesnutt to illuminate the various ways in which these novels seek not merely to revive but also to adapt republican notions of property, civic virtue, and the public sphere to the concerns and contingencies of the Gilded Age.