Date of Award

Summer 8-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Committee Chair

Eric Tribunella

Committee Chair Department

English

Committee Member 2

Katherine Cochran

Committee Member 2 Department

English

Committee Member 3

Sherita Johnson

Committee Member 3 Department

English

Committee Member 4

Alexandra Valint

Committee Member 4 Department

English

Committee Member 5

Ellen Weinauer

Committee Member 5 Department

English

Abstract

Most scholarship about girlhood in children’s literature tends to rely on national models of girlhood. My project complicates those models by demonstrating how region shapes distinct forms of American girlhood. In particular, I examine representations of southern girlhood in children’s literature published between 1852 and 1920, drawing on the four types of literature that most featured southern girls during this time period: abolitionist literature, Confederate literature, postbellum plantation fiction, and family stories. Using a historicist methodology and spatial analysis, I place these texts in relation to information about the spatial arrangements and protocols of southern domestic sites. By viewing girlhood in terms of how girls move within and use these domestic spaces, I argue that children’s writers construct southern girls as the protectors of the antebellum South. Girls offer forms of protection that play a crucial role in in preserving, strengthening, and romanticizing southern antebellum values. In some instances, children’s authors suggest that girls can protect the South and preserve southern cultural ideals in ways that men, women, or boys cannot. By privileging the contributions of girls over those of adults, children’s books disrupt the barrier between adult/child in order to maintain other hierarchies central to white southern lifestyles, such as master/slave, white/black, and rural/urban. As a result, these fictional girls reconfigure ideas about age and gender to protect racial and agrarian systems. This regional lens illustrates how American girlhood is not a monolithic category, and my project provides a more diverse approach to understanding the varied ways children’s writers represent girls.

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