Date of Award

Spring 2007

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Brigitte Bailey


In "Material Culture and Domestic Texts: Textiles in the Texts of Warner, Adams, Wilson, Sadlier, Stoddard, and Phelps," I draw from recently revised notions of the discourse of domesticity to argue that the imagery of textile production, consumption, and containment enables authors to configure experimental domestic forms. Mid-nineteenth-century authors used textiles---including their inherent "textility" and feminine associations---to play out new domestic configurations in response to exigencies of economy, race, intemperance, competitive desire, and labor. Their literature demystifies textiles' ability to invest social hierarchies of race, class, gender, and religion; it also enacts material changes of women's domestic spaces and roles in order to model ideological shifts. Because I trace the externalization of domestic values in material practices and conditions, I use material culture and historical approaches to contextualize textile production and consumption as part of a contested, ever-expanding fabric language.

My project begins with consideration of a "normative" imperialism of textiles as productive of white, middle-class domesticity and then turns to study those texts which, through metaphorical and ritualized uses of textiles, resist the domesticity of true womanhood. I consider works by Susan Warner, Canterbury Shaker sister Hester Ann Adams, Harriet Wilson, Irish-Catholic novelist Mary Anne Sadlier, Elizabeth Stoddard, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps to argue for textiles' role in the defense and negotiation of domesticity. For a few brief decades in the mid-nineteenth century, authors in the United States and also abroad interrogated the potential of the growing textile industry. These women authors plotted a path from passive, angelic, and victimized heroines toward a New Womanhood dictated not by moral pitch but by professional and material engagement with the world. At a time when women were often legally invisible and female literary heroines ethereal and self-effacing, these women authors crafted a material presence not only through their texts but through the use of substantial textile goods to reconfigure domestic space.