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Thresholds of Curating: Literary Space and Material Culture in the Works of Harriet Prescott Spofford, Edith Wharton, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Willa Cather 1870–1920

Lindsay N Andrews, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

THRESHOLDS OF CURATING: LITERARY SPACE AND MATERIAL CULTURE IN THE WORKS OF HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD, EDITH WHARTON, ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER, AND WILLA CATHER 1870-1920 Lindsay N. Andrews, Ph.D. University of Nebraska, 2020 Advisor: Guy Reynolds This dissertation explores the polycentric intersections between material and literary culture in four case studies spanning 1870-1920. Harriet Prescott Spofford, Edith Wharton, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Willa Cather are four women whose work reflects a capacity to defy the genre-specific boundaries for which they are canonically renown. Harriet Prescott Spofford was an important contributor to the interior design movement in the early Gilded Age following challenges to finding publication resources for her fiction within a male-dominated publishing community. Edith Wharton’s ties to material culture are well known, but less attention is granted to the ways in which her own expertise in interior design is materially and spatially manifest in her fiction. Combined with her own interest in fashion, Willa Cather’s fine art connoisseurship and professional journalism inform the sartorial flourishes she inserts in her novels. Isabella Stewart Gardner is not just a collector—she is a curator of the material ephemera she purchased or stewarded in her museum. Her vitrines, specifically, reflect a narrativization of her relationships and express authority over the ways in which those artifacts are arranged. The interdisciplinary scaffolding this dissertation adopts will survey the ways these women exploit the boundaries of the genres in which they were participating. To arrive at this point, the technical scope of this dissertation will excavate literary and material artifacts by using the complementary techniques of formal analysis and close reading. Combined with archival material and primary sources to convey the range of literary and artistic history, the case studies selected for analysis strive to explore the mechanisms by which women anchor “things” as a way of securing themselves within the boundaries of meaningful relationships—with material culture, with personal relationships, or with genre-specific explorations of art. The overarching argument the thesis will propose is that as each woman asserts control over her own work, at the same time, she creates a cultural economy that supports and promotes her friendships, patronages or individual acts of artistry.

Subject Area

American literature|Art history

Recommended Citation

Andrews, Lindsay N, "Thresholds of Curating: Literary Space and Material Culture in the Works of Harriet Prescott Spofford, Edith Wharton, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Willa Cather 1870–1920" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI27956464.
https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI27956464

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