From 1850-1932, American women artists found their bodies and desires narrowly defined by cultural, social, and legal patriarchal systems. Women were typically depicted as “abnormal” for harboring desires that lay outside of motherhood, yet female coming-of-age stories complicate this rhetoric by revealing how the roles of wife and mother are themselves “abnormal” in their self-sacrificial demands. The Artist Embodied: The Development of Women Artists in American Literature from 1850-1940 contends that in the female Künstlerromane, or artist novels, the protagonist’s body demands an outlet to articulate desires that defy restricting patriarchal rhetoric. This demand becomes an artistic drive to express an embodied knowledge in a new language of artistic invention that establishes the female body as generative beyond corporeal reproduction.This book explores the development of the female artist in American literature by women writers, including the work of E.D.E.N Southworth, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Kate Chopin, Willa Cather, Jessie Fauset, and Zelda Fitzgerald. Each of these authors depicts the coming-of-age of women artists to assert the legitimacy of their art, pushing back against the erroneous notion that women are, at best, talented hobbyists, and, at worst, a scribbling mob drawing attention away from more substantial works by critically acclaimed male authors.
Rickie-Ann Legleitner is assistant professor of English and director of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Wisconsin, Stout.
Chapter One: Individuality and the Embodiment of Inequality in E.D.E.N. Southworth’s The Deserted Wife
Chapter Two: Disabling Marriage and the Woman Artist in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s The Story of Avis
Chapter Three: Embracing Fate: Artistry and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Chapter Four: ‘That sensuous form’: Corporeal Artistic Creation in Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark
Chapter Five: The Body at Play: Artistic Passing in Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun
Chapter Six: The Cult of Artistry in Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save me the Waltz
In Women Writing the American Artist in Novels of Development from 1850-1932: The Artist Embodied, Rickie-Ann Legleitner makes a substantial contribution to the scholarship on the female artist novel of development through compelling analyses of patriarchal America’s resistance to recognizing women artists as creators of high art. In five Künstleromane published between 1850 and 1932, Legleitner focuses on how her selected women writers reconfigure accepted domestic and sentimental themes into declarations of female individualism and autonomy that establish the female body’s generative capabilities not only for corporeal reproduction but for liberating cultural production. Complicating the analyses through tropes of race, ethnicity, class and ability, the study examines the female fictional artists negotiating private and public spaces, the home and the marketplace, much as the women writers who created them did.
Rickie-Ann Legleitner’s The Artist Embodied significantly advances scholarship on the American Künstlerroman, Legleitner’s scope is both impressive and inclusive: it is hard to remember another study that bookends E.D.E.N. Southworth and Zelda Fitzgerald. Dramatizing the cultural boundaries that impede female creatives’ transformation from object to agent, this study dissects links between the craft and the body and between incarnation and imprisonment. Willa Cather and Kate Chopin fans will find compelling new insights, while those who need a refresher on Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Jesse Fauset will rediscover why recovering their work has been so culturally crucial.