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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Keeping their places: Emulation, simplicity, and class distinction in the domestic imagination 1877-1925
by Light, Anthony Francis, Ph.D., Yale University, 2009, 364; 3392548
Abstract (Summary)

By the latter nineteenth century, the identity of interest model that had previously culturally aligned the middle classes with the wealthy had eroded, replaced by a cultural stratification model in which class interests and class cultures were increasingly distinct.

This dissertation examines how the growing distinction among classes unfolded particularly with respect to the broad middle classes and particularly in the domestic imagination. I say "imagination" because this project takes as its central body of evidence writing about the domestic realm - domestic advice manuals and novels - as opposed to documentations of material decorating practices. In the domestic world depicted in these works, writers began to challenge the notion that the middle classes could transcend their middle class identity through the domestic emulation that had conferred refinement on earlier generations. These writers depicted a world where one's middle class identity was becoming a congenital condition, which no amount of cultural masquerading could undo. Middle class refinement was, instead, determined by one's degree of contentedness. Particularly in the context of growing class antagonism between rich and poor, writers depicted middle class contentment as a powerful means of harmonizing society and quelling the war over wealth.

By the nature of their distinct genres, the keeping of one's place operated in different but related ways in advice manuals and novels. Domestic manuals explored the keeping of one's place through aesthetic advice, characterizing the need for a modest simplicity in terms that described ideal, refined readers. Simplicity, therefore, created harmonious and unified families, symbolized their spiritual natures, and connoted people who were non-pretentious. Novels examined the thematic difficulties of keeping one's place by exploring the logics of and consequences for characters who were unable to transition into class places not their due, and the three novels examined in this dissertation take as central themes, respectively, harmony and unity, spirituality, and pretentiousness. Insofar as both genres considered material emulation to be a source of vulgarity and even tragedy, they were united in their efforts to imagine a world in which the middle classes could be refined by learning to keep their proper places.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Agnew, Jean-Christophe
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Home economics, American literature
Keywords: Advice literature, American history, American literature, Class division, Consumer culture, Decoration, Decoration and furnishing, Furnishing
Publication Number: 3392548
ISBN: 978-1-109-59576-5
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