Affirmation Through Negation: The Re-Belling Anti-Belle In the Works of Ellen Douglas, Lee Smith, Jill Mccorkle, Valerie Sayers and Carolyn Haines

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Maureen Ryan

Advisor Department



For many years, our understanding of the Southern woman was skewed by myths--most powerfully, the myth of the Southern belle--propagated through the fictions of men writing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, men such as George W. Bagby, John Pendleton Kennedy, and Cary Eggleston. This study joins efforts to critique those early, erroneous portraits of the Southern woman by focusing on the fictional female creations of five representative contemporary Southern women writers. These writers are engaged in altering commonplace myths about the Southern female by creating characters who are the antithesis of the traditional Southern belle. Through the lens of feminist criticism, this study examines the assertive voices, choices, and behaviors of the fictional female characters of Ellen Douglas, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Valerie Sayers, and Carolyn Haines, and will demonstrate how these characters successfully deconstruct long-standing central myths about the Southern belle that have been perpetuated by a patriarchally-dominated Southern culture. Moreover, the clever creation of the anti-belle character by these and other contemporary Southern women writers constitutes not only a debunking of long-standing myths, but, at long last, an affirmation through negation of Southern womanhood.