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Wine, women, and song: Gender and alcohol in twentieth -century American women's fiction

Holly Jean Hassel, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study argues that drinking became a marker of legitimacy and authenticity within Modernist literary communities in the Prohibition era and that some women writers deployed alcohol as a symbol within their fiction to capture both the era of new freedom for women at the turn of the century and to demonstrate the complex relationships between identity, gender, and drinking. ^ Each chapter examines drinking as it is featured in the fiction and life of selected women writers: Katherine Anne Porter, Dorothy Parker, Dawn Powell, and Jean Stafford. Following a review of scholarship within the study of literature and addiction, in Chapter Two, I examine Porter's novel, Ship of Fools , and American alcoholic characters, Mrs. Treadwell, an aging divorcée and Jenny Brown, an artist. I also discuss Porter's use of alcohol to secure literary authority and a place in male literary drinking cultures. ^ In Chapter Three, I argue that Dorothy Parker's fiction, too, features female alcoholic characters who drink exclusively in heterosocial situations, and I place Parker's drinking in the cultural and historical contexts of Prohibition that shaped both her fiction and her life. ^ My chapter on Dawn Powell examines her commentary on restrictive cultural institutions, particularly marriage, in the 1940 novel, Angels on Toast. While Powell depicts female characters who, through their drinking and entrance into male drinking spheres, resist prescribed feminine ideals rooted in Victorianism, she also remarks upon the inability of women to maneuver satisfactorily between domestic and public realms. ^ In my final chapter, I discuss Jean Stafford's critiques of public and private gender roles as they intersect with the artistic community and alcohol, a contrast to the celebratory work of her predecessors. In two short stories, “An Influx of Poets” and “Children Are Bored on Sunday,” Stafford complicates drinking by considering class and region for her female characters, relocating the woman drinker from the public spaces of speakeasies and saloons to the domestic sites of marriage and home. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Hassel, Holly Jean, "Wine, women, and song: Gender and alcohol in twentieth -century American women's fiction" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3055273.