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19. Revolutionary Sentiments: Modern American Domestic Fiction and the Rise of the Welfare State

Susan Edmunds

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics novel and novella, welfare

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00022.x


In 1919, Arthur W. Calhoun published his massive study, A Social History of the American Family from Colonial Times to the Present . His title is not entirely accurate: instead of taking his readers up to the present, Calhoun closes his study with a forecast of the future. His final chapter, “The Family and the Social Revolution,” roundly dismisses “sentimental campaigns for rehabilitation or conservation of old values” ( Calhoun 1919 : 322), and instead endorses “indications” that US “society is working toward Socialism” (p. 326). In earlier chapters, Calhoun had identified the Industrial Revolution and “the revolution in woman's world” (p. 85) as interlocking forces of domestic upheaval. These forces were now strong enough to make a “new family life … inevitable” (p. 332). Struggling to keep the joy out of his bleached academic prose, Calhoun conjures up a future likely to startle and bemuse readers of today. His coming socialist American family will rest on a foundation of: “absolute sex equality,” “scientific pedagogy of sex relations,” “full economic opportunity for all young people so that marriage shall not be influenced by mercenary considerations,” and “home ownership” on demand (pp. 326, 327). Prostitution, poverty, and venereal disease will be eliminated. More ominously, “a thoroughgoing eugenics,” backed by the state, will emphasize the “significance of the marital ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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