Date of Award

Spring 1994

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

David H Watters


Since 1824, fiction writers have attempted to treat the celibate communalist life of the American Shakers within narrative plot patterns that privilege marriage. The resulting stories and novels show Shakerism continually resisting this appropriation. Nevertheless, unable or unwilling to accept Shakerism's subversion of the necessary centrality of marriage, most of these writers have struggled to contain Shakerism's counter-structures of family and of narrative by reducing Shakerism's complexity. Shakerism, however, remains irreducible--a thorn in the text.

This study focuses on fifteen fictions in which well-known and lesser-known writers try to bring Shakerism and marriage together.

The Preface summarizes the Shakers' history and evolving doctrine and considers issues of outsider interpretation.

The Introduction proposes theoretical perspectives in dialogism and constructions of sexuality--from Joseph Allen Boone, David S. Reynolds, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Sally L. Kitch--which can enable us to recognize Shaker celibate gospel union as an authentic family commitment and to consider the novel genre as an apt vehicle for Shakerism's subversive and affirming potential.

Chapter I considers agendas of career authorship and republican motherhood that shape the Shaker stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1833) and Caroline Lee Hentz (1839).

Chapter II examines gothic treatments of Shakers in two popular romances (both 1848) and the novelized love story in Hervey Elkins's 1853 apostate account.

Chapter III explores strategies in two magazine romances (1872 and 1878) and a William Dean Howells novel (1880) that endorse the threatened conventional family by insisting on Shaker "otherness.".

Chapter IV shows a more mature Howells realigning plots of Shakerism and marriage in three novels from the 1890s and beginning to recognize Shaker authenticity.

Chapter V discusses three fictions (1909-10) of Kate Douglas Wiggin, Howells, and Margaret Deland that register varying responses to the Shakers as supposedly becoming part of the past.

An Afterword touches upon more recent fictions and affirms Shakerism's continuing possibilities to expand our sense of family and of narrative.