The Family of God: Universalism and Domesticity in Alice Cary's Fiction
Galliher, Jane M.
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Until recently Alice Cary's works have gone largely unnoticed by the literary community, and those critics who have examined her writings have recognized her primarily as a regionalist sketch writer. However, studying Cary's total body of fiction, including her novels and children's fiction as well as her sketches, and examining the influence of Christian Universalism upon her work reveals that Cary is a much more complex and nuanced writer than she has been previously understood to be. This dissertation explores the way that Cary questions stereotypes of accepted behavior specifically as they pertain to the identities of men, women, and children and offers a more flexible and inclusive religious identity rooted in Universalist ideals. In her depictions of women, Cary uses tropes from gothic stories, fairy tales, and sentimental fiction to criticize evangelical faith, Transcendentalism, and separate spheres-based stereotypes of women's behavior, and she undermines these stereotypes and replaces them with a Universalist emphasis on communal service and identity. Similarly, Cary's depictions of manhood are influenced by her desire to dissect preconceived notions of masculinity like that of the Self-Made Man and his earlier counterparts the Genteel Patriarch and the Heroic Artisan and replace these stereotypes with a Universalist model that embraces gender fluidity and sacrifice of self interest for the larger community. Cary's treatment of children continues her critique of nineteenth century stereotypes. Cary, unlike most early nineteenth century writers, exposes the dangers of romanticized visions of middle class children, which physically isolated children from their families and endangered working class children by increasing the demand for child labor; thus Cary's Universalism leads her to depict all children, not just the wealthy ones, as God's children and worthy of protection. Cary also uses children metaphorically to represent minorities and tentatively question the treatment of African Americans and Native Americans. Cary stands as a prime example of an author who has been overlooked and whose obscurity has hindered the construction of literary history, particularly in regard to the antebellum roots of realism and the influence of liberal religious belief on realistic fiction.