American Modernism's Gothic Children
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This dissertation delineates a range of literary endeavors engaging the gothic contours of child life in early to mid-twentieth century America. Drawing fresh attention to fictional representations of the child in modernist narratives, I show how writers such as William Faulkner, Djuna Barnes, Jean Toomer, Eudora Welty, and Katherine Anne Porter turned to childhood as a potent site for negotiating cultural anxieties about physical and cultural reproduction. I reveal the implications of modernist technique for the historical formation of American childhood, demonstrating how these texts intervened in national debates about sexuality, race, and futurity. Each dissertation chapter adopts a comparative approach, indicating a shared investment in a specific formulation of the gothic child. Barnes and Faulkner, in creating the child-woman, appraise how the particular influence of psychoanalysis on childhood innocence irrevocably alters the cultural landscape. Faulkner and Toomer, through the spectral child, evaluate the exclusionary racial politics surrounding interracial intimacy which impact kinship structures in the U.S. South. Welty and Porter, in spotlighting the orphan girl-child, assess the South’s gendered social matrix through the child’s consciousness. Finally, Faulkner, in addressing children as a readership in his little-known gothic fable, The Wishing Tree, produces a compelling site to examine the relationship between literature written for the child and modernist artistic practice.