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12. New Regionalisms: Literature and Uneven Development

Hsuan L. Hsu

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics novel and novella, regionalism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00015.x


The meaning of “regionalism” changed dramatically between its prominence as a picturesque literary genre in the 1880s and 1890s and its rise as a mode of sociological inquiry and political administration in the 1920s and 1930s. In the late nineteenth century, authors like Hamlin Garland, Bret Harte, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Kate Chopin popularized regionalist or “local color” fiction as a form that recorded, preserved, and interrogated the dialects, folk culture, and preindustrial practices of villages and farms far removed from urban industrial centers. Although the popularity of these authors was overshadowed by imperialist historical romances and naturalist novels of the 1890s and the cosmopolitan ethos of postwar modernism, the 1920s saw a regionalist resurgence that would play an important role in US literary history. As Donna Campbell writes, when it fell out of fashion at the turn of the last century “local color did not disappear; it instead became fragmented, dissolving into a host of new literary trends” ( Campbell 1997 : 47). While twentieth-century regionalist discourse spans a range of genres and media – including the poetry of Robert Frost and Edgar Lee Masters, the painting of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, Thornton Wilder's plays, and Rupert Vance's social geography – this chapter will focus on its influence in works of prose fiction. I will consider regionalism ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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