Extending the Line: Early Twentieth Century American Women's Sonnets
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This dissertation rereads sonnets by three crucial but misunderstood early twentieth-century women poets at the intersection of the study of American literary history and scholarship of the sonnet as a genre, exposing and correcting a problematic loss of nuance in both narratives. Genre scholarship of the sonnet rarely extends into the twentieth century, while early twentieth-century studies tend to focus on nontraditional poem types. But in fact, as I show, formal poetry, the sonnet in particular, engaged deeply with the contemporary social issues of the period, and proved especially useful for women writers to consider the ways their identities as women and poets functioned in a world that was changing rapidly. Using the sonnet’s dialectical form, which creates tension with an internal turn, and which engages inherently with its own history, these women writers demonstrated the enduring power of the sonnet as well as their own positions as women and poets. Tying together genre and period scholarship, my dissertation corrects misreadings of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sarah Teasdale, and Helene Johnson; of the period we often refer to as “modernism”; and of the sonnet form.