Managing Boys: Forming Masculinity in Nineteenth-Century United States Literature and Culture

Parille, Kenneth Miller, Department of English, University of Virginia
Railton, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

“Managing Boys: Forming Masculinity in Nineteenth-Century United States Literature and Culture” explores theories of boyhood pedagogy advanced by an important group of New England authors and educators, including Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Jacob Abbott, Catharine Sedgwick, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Building on the work of sociologists, historians, and literary critics such as Michael Kimmel, Mary Ryan, Lora Romero, and Richard Brodhead, I engage a wide range of texts--fiction, advice manuals, and educational writings--to show that boyhood pedagogy played a crucial role in the literary and social projects of many influential New England authors. My dissertation reveals that these writers radically disagreed about the nature of boys, the appropriate disciplinary strategies for them, and the dynamics of the mother-son relationship, issues at the center of nineteenth-century theories of domesticity. Since most educators of the period defined boyhood pedagogy by comparing it to girlhood pedagogy, I argue that we need to look at both together to understand what is distinctive to each. Relying upon feminist criticism and history, my four chapters examine play, corporal punishment, sympathy, and shame within girlhood and boyhood pedagogy. I look at the powerful and similar functions that disciplinary forms of shame and sacrifice served in both boys’ and girls’ fiction by focusing on characters like the often-overlooked male protagonist of Little Women in conjunction with contemporary success manuals for young men. Critics of Alcott’s novel read it as a story of female submission, but I argue throughout my dissertation that novelists like Alcott, as well as many other cultural authorities, endorsed numerous forms of submission for boys. Yet my project illuminates important differences; beliefs about boys’ and girls’ contrasting emotional and intellectual capacities inform many writers’ endorsement of corporal punishment for boys and their rejection of the practice for girls. Ultimately, I argue that boyhood, which has often been treated as an unproblematic category, is a construct that was rigorously debated throughout nineteenth-century culture.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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