Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This study establishes a conversation between regional literary theory, ecocriticism, and places studies as a necessary component of a more nuanced understanding of regionalism as depicted by mobile American authors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Between 1860 and 1930, regional writers faced the challenge of making place relevant in an increasingly mobile world. In contrast to scholarly studies that situate the relevance of regionalism as a vehicle for a larger cause (for example, nationalism or feminism), or conversely, studies that focus on articulating an overly rigid "regional identity" of places or authors, I employ the term "regional consciousness" to explore how writers see through a regional lens. Through this concept of regional consciousness I investigate the representation of physical geography in American literature; the role that literature plays in the cultural construction of place; and how place attachment facilitates communal belonging.
In Chapter One I analyze how Mark Twain's use of geographic immersion -- detailed, sensory recordings of place -- facilitates his analysis of cultural geography and his critique of national unity. In Chapter Two I turn to examine geographic and communal isolation and Sara Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, and particularly, the tension between regional place attachment and failed or jingoistic expressions of nationalism. Chapter Three traces the changing dynamics of regional consciousness through national conversations on "civilization" at the turn of the century in the Atlantic Monthly by focusing on two distinct types of writing, analytical essays and personal narratives, especially those by John Muir. In Chapter Four I examine how Willa Cather's novel The Professor's House challenges the dichotomy between regionalism and modernism. In Chapter Five I continue this conversation on modern regionalism through examining the relationship between cultural geography and social class in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and related short stories. I conclude this study by analyzing four recurring pedagogical issues or questions that run throughout a variety of regional, environmental, and other "place-based" approaches to literature, which are relevant not only to English courses, but to the university culture at large.