Fictions of domesticity: Literatures of self, home and nation in the post-Civil War United States, 1860-1885

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Linda M. Shires


Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, John William De Forest, Rebecca Harding Davis, Melusina Fay Peirce, John Humphrey Noyes, Domesticity

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History | Literature in English, North America | United States History | Women's Studies


This dissertation examines domesticity as a cultural backbone supporting the broader culture in the complex period just after the United States Civil War. I examine varied literary and polemic texts by Northeastern writers who investigate the relationships then between home and national. By focusing on connections between middle-class writers and more "radical" social commentators, I demonstrate how domesticity outlines a horizon of social possibilities or what Paul Ricoeur has called a "cultural imaginary." The Introduction, entitled "Domestic Identities in the Post-Bellum United States," explores background related to three key concepts: domesticity, nationalism, and utopia. Chapter One, entitled "Civil Wars and Missing Mothers in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Gates Ajar ," argues that Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' The Gates Ajar responds to the Civil War with a description of a utopian heaven and by exploring the subjectivities that support this heaven. Chapter Two, "A War's Romance: Race, Gender and History," discusses John William De Forest's Miss Ravenel's Conversion and Rebecca Harding Davis' Waiting for the Verdict . I explore their contrasting arguments about the entwined place of race and gender in the reconstructing nation. Chapter Three, "A Homely Business: Melusina Fay Peirce and the Cooperative Housekeeping Movement," addresses the radical and often racist nationalist implications of Peirce's Cambridge Massachusetts cooperative. Chapter Four, "The Oneida Community as Domestic Nation," draws on John Humphrey Noyes' History of American Socialisms and on letters from the do communistic' Oneida Community after the War. Here I argue that at its most radical, the Community can be understood as an expression of normative Northeastern cultural life.


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