Neither Wholly Public, Nor Wholly Private: Interstitial Spaces in Works by Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers



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This project examines the representation of architectural and metaphoric spaces in the works of four nineteenth-century American women writers: Harriet Wilson, Harriet Jacobs, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and Edith Wharton. I focus on what I call interstitial spaces: spaces that are neither wholly public nor private but that exist somewhere in between the public and private realms. Interstitial spaces are locations that women writers claim to resist the predominantly private restrictions of the family or the predominantly public conventions of society. Interstitiality becomes a border space that enables women writers?both for themselves and for their fictional characters?to redefine, rearrange, and challenge the expectations of public and private spaces in the nineteenth century. This dissertation investigates how nineteenth-century American women writers create interstitial spaces. Further, it demonstrates how they use such spaces to express their views, manipulate the divisions between the public and private realms, and defy societal and familial conventions. Since the mid-1970s, critics have been analyzing public and private under the assumption that the boundaries between the spheres were more porous than originally thought. This project adds to the critical dialogue concerning the separation of public and private realms as the conceptual framework of criticism shifts from an increased awareness of gender, race, and class. My project responds to the growing trend of analyzing literary works through architectural and spatial theories. While applying such theories, I focus on how race and class affect a writer's ability to create interstitial spaces. I further respond to this trend by considering authors who have not yet been included in this way, namely Wilson and Phelps. By analyzing the physical and rhetorical ways these authors manipulate space, I offer an account of gender, race, and class along with architectural and spatial concepts that juxtaposes authors who have not yet been considered together. My dissertation offers a new critical vocabulary to consider writers' representations of spaces by employing the word interstitial, which no other critic uses. I specifically use interstitial to describe spaces that exist between the public and private realms and describe the transformation in space that occurs through spatial and rhetorical manipulation.