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History Literature Women of Colour

Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist

Reconstructing Womanhood: The
Emergence of the Afro-American
Woman Novelist
Hazel V. CarbyOxford University Press1987

A cultural history of the work of nineteenth-century black women writers, this volume traces the emergence of the novel as a forum for political and cultural reconstruction, examining the ways in which dominant sexual ideologies influenced the literary conventions of women’s fiction, and reassessing the uses of fiction in American culture. Carby revises the history of the period of Jim Crow and Booker T. Washington, depicting a time of intense cultural and political activity by such black women writers as Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Pauline Hopkins.

Carby wrote the book with four major aims:
1. To examine how black women writers and orators dealt with the exclusionary practices of domestic and literary ideals of womanhood in nineteenth century white society; and how black female intellectuals transformed and reconstructed these ideologies to produce their own definitions of true womanhood.
2. To expose the lack of significant political alliances between black and white women during the nineteenth century. Further, in terms of contemporary feminism and literary criticism, Carby argues that white women were more inclined to show allegiance to race instead of gender by allying themselves not with black women, but with the dominant white male patriarchy.
3. To identify the societal contributions of black women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during a period of intense intellectual activity and productivity deemed the “black women’s renaissance”.
4. To serve as a literary history chronicling the emergence of black female novelists and the historical contexts in which they wrote.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: “Woman’s Era”
… Rethinking Black Feminist Theory

Chapter 2: Slave and Mistress
… Ideologies of Womanhood under Slavery

Chapter 3: “Hear My Voice, Ye Careless Daughters”
… Narratives of Slave and Free Women before Emancipation

Chapter 4: “Of Lasting Service for the Race”
… The Work of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Chapter 5: “In the Quiet, Undisputed Dignity of My Womanhood”
… Black Feminist Thought after Emancipation

Chapter 6: “Of What Use Is Fiction?”
… Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins

Chapter 7: “All the Fire and Romance”
… The Magazine Fiction of Pauline Hopkins

Chapter 8: The Quicksands of Representation
… Rethinking Black Cultural Politics