An analysis of how nineteenth-century women regional writers represent political economic thought
Readers of late nineteenth-century female American authors are familiar with plots, characters, and households that make a virtue of economizing. Scholars often interpret these scenarios in terms of a mythos of parsimony, frequently accompanied by a sort of elegiac republicanism whereby self-sufficiency and autonomy are put to the service of the greater good—a counterworld to the actual economic conditions of the period.
In Kitchen Economics: Women’s Regionalist Fiction and Political Economy, Thomas Strychacz takes a new approach to the question of how female regionalist fictions represent “the economic” by situating them within traditions of classical political economic thought. Offering case studies of key works by Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rose Terry Cooke, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson, this study focuses on three complex cultural fables—the island commonwealth, stadialism (or stage theory), and feeding the body politic—which found formal expression in political economic thought, made their way into endless public debates about the economic turmoil of the late nineteenth century, and informed female authors. These works represent counterparts, not counterworlds, to modernity; and their characteristic stance is captured in the complex trope of feminaeconomica.
This approach ultimately leads us to reconsider what we mean by the term “economic,” for the emphasis of contemporary neoclassical economics on economic agents given over to infinite wants and complete self-interest has caused the “sufficiency” and “common good” models of female regionalist authors to be misinterpreted and misvalued. These fictions are nowhere more pertinent to modernity than in their alliance with today’s important alternative economic discourses.
About the Author
Thomas Strychacz is May Treat Morrison Professor of English at Mills College. He is author of Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism; Hemingway’s Theaters of Masculinity; and Dangerous Masculinities: Conrad, Hemingway, and Lawrence.
“Kitchen Economics is a thoughtful, deeply contextualized, and persuasively detailed re-reading of late-nineteenth-century female regionalist writers from the perspective of their engagement with political economic theory. This book will be a valuable addition to a growing body of work on women writers and economic discourse.” —Mary Templin, author of Panic Fiction: Women and Antebellum Economic Crisis