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The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress

Poor White Women in Southern Literature of the Great Depression

Southern Literary Studies

240 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

ebook available

Literary Studies | Literature - American | Womens Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807144459 / June 2012

In The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress, Ashley Craig Lancaster examines how converging political and cultural movements helped to create dualistic images of southern poor white female characters in Depression-era literature. While other studies address the familial and labor issues that challenged female literary characters during the 1930s, Lancaster focuses on how the evolving eugenics movement reinforced the dichotomy of altruistic maternal figures and destructive sexual deviants. 

According to Lancaster, these binary stereotypes became a new analogy for hope and despair in America’s future and were well utilized by Depression-era politicians and authors to stabilize the country’s economic decline. As a result, the complexity of women’s lives was often overlooked in favor of stock characters incapable of individuality. 
Lancaster studies a variety of works, including those by male authors William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, and John Steinbeck, as well as female novelists Mary Heaton Vorse, Myra Page, Grace Lumpkin, and Olive Tilford Dargan. She identifies female stereotypes in classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and in the work of later writers Dorothy Allison and Rick Bragg, who embrace and share in a poor white background.
The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress reveals that these literary stereotypes continue to influence not only society’s perception of poor white southern women but also women’s perception of themselves.

Ashley Craig Lancaster has published articles in the Journal of Dracula Studies, Midwest Quarterly, and Southern Literary Journal. She is an English instructor at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Mississippi.

Praise for The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress

“A well-conceived, thoroughly researched, and compelling examination of representations of southern poor white women within eugenicists' publications, documentary works, and novels of the 1920s and 1930s. This important work of intellectual and literary history illuminates the infusion of eugenics politics into American (more precisely, southern) literature, a topic that heretofore has received little scholarly attention within southern literary studies.”—Journal of Southern History

“This is an impressive study that contributes substantially to modernist scholars’ recent attention to race and class as shaping the form and content of U.S. literature and photography of the 1920s and 1930s. Just as important, Lancaster offers a cautionary tale for the present; we still have much to learn about notions of ‘superior’ American identity founded upon stereotyped representations of others, especially now, as the nation finds itself once again in economic depression. With her evenhanded critique, Lancaster shows clearly the costs of recasting individuals as ‘stock characters’ who come to represent, alternatively, the hopes and fears of the nation.”—Daylanne K. English, author of Unnatural Selections: Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance

“Lancaster provides a nuanced view of the relationship of eugenics to popular literature. Combining historical context with an insightful reading of both well-known and less-read works, she sheds light on the various ways poor white women were represented. This is an important book for both historians and literary theorists.”—Steve Noll, author of Feeble-Minded in Our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900–1940

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