Dirty Work: Domestic Service in Progressive-Era Women's Fiction

Dirty Work: Domestic Service in Progressive-Era Women's Fiction

by Ann Mattis


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Dirty Work sheds light on the complex relationships between women employers and their household help in the early twentieth century through their representations in literature, including women’s magazines, conduct manuals, and particularly female-authored fiction. Domestic service brought together women from different classes, races, and ethnicities, and with it, a degree of social anxiety as upwardly mobile young women struggled to construct their identities in a changing world. The book focuses on the works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, Anzia Yezierska, and Fannie Hurst and their various depictions of the maid/mistress relationship, revealing “a feminized and racialized brand of class hegemony.”  Modern servants became configured as racial, hygienic, and social threats to the emergent ideal of the nuclear family, and played critical rhetorical roles in first-wave feminism and the New Negro movements. Ann Mattis reveals how U.S. domestic service was the political unconscious of cultural narratives that attempted to define modern domesticity and progressive femininity in monolithic terms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472131297
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 04/09/2019
Series: Class : Culture Series
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ann Mattis is Associate Professor of English, University of Wisconsin Green Bay, Sheboygan campus.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: American Progressivism's Dirty Work 1

1 Managing the Servant Girl Problem in Charlotte Perk Gilman's Progressive Home 25

2 The Traffic of Immigrant Domestics in Gertrude Stein's Three Lives 53

3 A Gothic Romance: Mistresses and Servants in Edith Wharton's Ghost Stories 81

4 New Black Women and Servitude in Jessie Fauset's The Sleeper Wokes and Nella Larsen's Passing 111

5 The Oedipalization of Life in Fannie Hurst's Servant Melodramas 149

Afterword: "They Give Me Just What They Think I Am Worth": The Last Word on Servants 189

Notes 197

Works Cited 217

Index 229

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