Beyond the belle's borders : white southern femininity in U.S. literature, 1925-1947

Gibson, Alison Ruth Caviness, Department of English, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, Department of English, University of Virginia

Historians and literary critics generally agree that the ideal of antebellum white southern womanhood was born and perpetuated in the imaginations of white slaveholding men who sought to justify the oppression of black slaves and secure the power of the white patriarchy. My dissertation revisits the southern "belle" and positions her both within and without the perceived borders of the U.S. South, thus dismantling the myth that she is solely the product of southern imaginations and white southern men in particular. Using a critical lens sharpened by locational feminist theorist Susan Stanford Friedman, I consider how F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, and Tennessee Williams depict the southern belle outside of her native territory, both performing and renegotiating her identity in relation to various cultures and spaces. Beyond the borders of her local white community, the belle is not only imagined in opposition to a myth of black promiscuity (as critics and historians of the U.S. South have argued), but also in relation to national, Western, and queer concerns.

This project contributes to recent work in the new southern studies that calls for an understanding of the South as a permeable, imaginary space thick with border crossings of every sort: racial, gendered, regional, transnational. This dissertation takes seriously that idea that regional gender ideals are constructed within national and global contexts. It blurs the lines between southern and non-southern texts, regional and national authorship, and local and global constructions of gender.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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