Maria Susanna Cummins' "The Lamplighter" : a revisioning of a sentimental writer of the nineteenth-century United States as rhetor, social critic, and feminist Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/k930c2391

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  • Within The Lamplighter, a novel written in 1854, Maria Susanna Cummins defines a version of the sentimental novel that significantly differs from the prescriptive analysis male critics have offered for the genre. This thesis argues that feminist theory and recent rhetorical theory have caused a critical paradigm shift that has opened new possibilities for re-visioning this and other nineteenth century sentimental fiction. Certain critics including Nina Baym and Susan K. Harris have suggested that sentimental fiction can be re-visioned by allowed ourselves the freedom to explore the texts through a critique of traditional canonical models. Harris' process analysis method of exploring texts acknowledges the shifting ideologies of nineteenth-century America and blends historical, rhetorical, and ideological methods of criticism in a system that allows the complex nature of sentimental fiction to unfold. Process analysis centers the reading on the text, while valuing the cultural structures and historical context of the time in which it was written. The purpose of this thesis is not to devalue canonical literature nor to value all women-authored texts disregarding valid standards of quality but to demonstrate that we can discover a different value for the sentimental. The consequence of reading through this process is discovering that Cummins explicitly states the purpose of literature, her cultural contribution to the state of her nation, and women's responsibility to alter that condition through self-education, true concern for others, and development of autonomy. Through this reading I place The Lamplighter as a significant marker in the history of women authored fiction.
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