Playing House in the American West: Western Women's Life Narratives, 1839-1987 (Hardback)Cathryn Halverson (author)
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The controlling metaphor Cathryn Halverson uses in her engrossing study is "playing house." From Caroline Kirkland and Laura Ingalls Wilder to Willa Cather and Marilynne Robinson, from the mid-nineteenth to the late-twentieth centuries, western authors have persistently embraced wayward or eccentric housekeeping to prove a woman's difference from western neighbours and eastern readers alike.
The readings in Playing House investigate the surprising textual ends to which westerners turn the familiar terrain of the home: evaluating community; arguing for different conceptions of race and class; and perhaps most especially, resisting traditional gender roles. Western women writers, Halverson argues, render the home as a stage for autonomy, resistance, and imagination rather than as a site of sacrifice and obligation.
The western women examined in Playing House in the American West are promoted and read as representatives of a region, as insiders offering views of distant and intriguing ways of life, even as they conceive of themselves as outsiders. By playing with domestic conventions, they recast the region they describe, portraying the West as a place that fosters female agency, individuality, and subjectivity.
Publisher: The University of Alabama Press
Number of pages: 256
Weight: 567 g
Dimensions: 229 x 155 x 28 mm
"Through a series of incisive literary readings, Cathryn Halverson reconfigures the U.S. West as a space of liberating domesticity--the more unorthodox, the better. Exploring women life writers who range across race, class, sexuality, period, and genre, she excavates compelling conversations and legacies, unsettles assumptions about home-making, and mines unsuspected layers of textual play. The revealed relationship between women and the West just became that much richer." --Christine Bold, author of The Frontier Club: Popular Westerns and Cultural Power, 1880-1924
"Playing House in the American West is an impressive book. Its chronological scope is large, as is its range of writers and genres. It articulately and imaginatively shows the wide variety of ways women writers and women's writings have been able to move past what might have been the stifl ing drudgery of housework into affirming, creative, agency- producing acts of playing house."
--Western American Literature
"Cathryn Halverson's major contribution to American literary studies in Playing House in the American West is to map an alternative trajectory in women's writing about the West, and this alternative is all the more appealing because it largely ignores, and acknowledges its displacement of, the confining and oversimplifying narratives that reduce much of western American literature to the political unconscious of American imperialism.... The strength of Halverson's book is in its acknowledgment of these moments when self- fashioning and "playing house" are undone by imperial power and social hierarchies, all the while focusing on how, despite these "grim realities," women's writing about the West so frequently strives to offer "more palatable versions of their lives" (175)."
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