Date of Award

Spring 1995

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Melody Graulich


In 1924, Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879-1958) wrote, "I have always conceived of everyday life as needing very much the sort of constant effort at composition--that is shapeliness, elimination of unnecessary details, choice of details--as any other work of art." This quotation is the epigraph to my study of five of Fisher's early novels because it reveals a central theme of her fiction: that art is the creation of a daily life that successfully negotiates the "problems of living" (Fisher's phrase) that plague modern America. The five novels that I analyze--The Squirrel-Cage (1912), The Bent Twig (1915), The Brimming Cup (1921), The Home-maker (1924) and The Deepening Stream (1930)--show that Fisher defines these problems as finding meaningful work and creating sustaining marriages and family lives. Her protagonists' solutions to these problems comprise an "art of living," a phrase Fisher uses to summarize the lessons her protagonists learn in their quests to shape their lives.

As I explain in my introduction, Fisher's relationship with her mother was a defining element in her artistic development. Although her mother embraced an "art for art's sake" credo, Fisher felt that art should have a social purpose. Her fiction is rich with debates about art that reenact this split with her mother. Fisher forges a connection between two different artistic processes in her fiction: the ritualized shaping of domestic life, and the rigorous training of creating high art. Therefore, I argue that her position in American women's literature is transitional because she blends two women's literary traditions, regionalism and the kunstlerroman, broadening their boundaries.

Throughout my study, I structure my chapters according to the domestic processes that Fisher invokes in her fiction--carpentry, gardening and sewing--illuminating how her protagonists combine these domestic processes with their musical careers. I also describe the social movements that Fisher was interested in--the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Montessori method of education, Freudian psychology and daycare--and show how they partially provide Fisher with the solutions she seeks in remodeling family life for modern America.