Tableaux Vivants - Grace Ann Hovet with Theodore R. Hovet, Sr.

Tableaux Vivants

By Grace Ann Hovet with Theodore R. Hovet, Sr.

  • Release Date: 2009-06-27
  • Genre: Literary Criticism
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Grace Ann Hovet contends in this study of novels written by middle-class white American women from 1850 to the contemporary period that their portrayals of the development of female identity adds a great deal of supporting evidence to the assertion of several influential psychologists, social scientists, and philosophers that, while identity is surely shaped in part by culture and social structures, it is also unique to each individual. In the words of Mark Tappan in Narratives and Story Telling, an inner self defines itself through an ongoing dialogue between the internally persuasive discourse of individual consciousness and the authoritarian enforced discourse of the dominant culture and institutions (1991, 18). In the novels considered here, much of the inner discourse is performed. The female protagonist understands that she is expected to act out the accepted feminine role. As a consequence, the inner self expresses itself through the conscious manipulation of the image. For this reason, Professor Hovet argues that tableaux vivants provide an apt central metaphor for the development of female identity in these novels. These living pictures consist of individuals, usually women, carefully costumed and posed to replicate famous scenes from history and the arts. In the nineteenth century, these tableaux evolved in the United States into an extremely popular parlor game or entertainment interlude in middle-class social gatherings. In the novels, Lily Barts portrayal of Joshua Reynoldss Mrs. Lloyd in Edith Whartons The House of Mirth provides the most vivid example. But the novels also make it clear that tableaux vivants were a part of everyday life as young women learned to pose before others as the model of feminine beauty or as the angel in the house. This study adds to those of Susan Fraiman, Lori Merish, and Nancy Armstrong that describe the relationship of novels to the development of middle-class subjectivity. In particular, it explains the process by which a female subjectivity evolved in the United States from the mid-nineteenth to late-twentieth century. Employing a historical continuum, Professor Hovet selected for study novels that she saw as most influential in the culture of the United States because of their ongoing popularity and continued presence in the culture. Literary historians consider Susan Warners The Wide, Wide World (1850) to be Americas first best seller. Little Women (1869) has been one of the most read and loved novels, at least among young female readers, for more than a century and has been made into at least four well-known movies with stars the caliber of Katherine Hepburn and Winona Ryder. Harriet Beecher Stowes My Wife and I (1871) was hugely successful in an intensely competitive serial fiction market. Kate Chopins The Awakening (1899) has become a mainstay in literature and womens studies classrooms and has been made into at least two movies, End of August and Grand Isle. Edith Whartons The House of Mirth (1905) was not only popular among middle-class readers of the time but has become known to mass culture through the 2000 movie version. Margaret Mitchells Gone with the Wind (1936) and its movie version generated the term blockbuster. Harper Lees To Kill a Mockingbird has been one of the most widely read books of the twentieth century, and the movie starring Gregory Peck is now a cultural icon. Marilyn Frenchs The Womens Room (1977) remains a cause celebre, and Mona Simpsons Anywhere But Here (1986) was reprinted six times within two months of its publication and became a movie starring Susan Sarandon. The study also tries to show how depictions of female identity surfaced tensions and anxieties in the dominant social discourse. All the novels in this analysis are so-called crossover novels. The term crossover has become common in culture studies, particularly in analyses of the way some works reach a large enough audience to breach the walls that traditionally have separated high an

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