Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The expatriate literary community in interwar Paris included a number of women whose private presses and little magazines stimulated the creation of experimental literature by printing works certain to be rejected by mainstream publishing houses. These publishers and editors have traditionally been cast as the midwives of modernism. Literary histories relegate them to traditional female roles - or ignore them altogether. Feminist scholarship has recently begun to uncover the full extent of the women's influence; however, the body of self-representational literature they produced continues to be neglected or misread. This thesis examines Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company, Caresse Crosby's The Passionate Years, and Margaret Anderson's My Thirty Years' War.
Conscious that her adoption of an autobiographical voice breaches cultural scripts of self-effacing womanhood, Sylvia Beach downplays her role as bookseller, librarian and publisher to foreground instead a more conventional, maternal role. Details of her literary labours, particularly those arising from her publication of James Joyce's Ulysses, are selectively interspersed amidst accounts of personal favours performed for her clientele. Invoking a domestic discourse to represent Shakespeare and Company, Beach disguises her bid to establish the bookstore as a landmark of modernism.
Like Beach, Caresse Crosby revises standard (male) histories of expatriate Paris by situating her autobiography within a domestic realm and not the public space of Left Bank cafés. The Passionate Years highlights Crosby's status as a glittering society hostess whose parties attract international attention. The depiction of her social preeminence comprehends claims of her artistic influence: Crosby's guests at her Moulin de Soleil include writers and artists whose works she published at her Black Sun Press.
Margaret Anderson too collapses the distinction between home and workplace. My Thirty Years' War depicts how she edits the Little Review at her kitchen table; furthermore, her journal and domestic space are upheld as equally valid vehicles of creative self-expression. Anderson's credo of "life-as-an-an" encapsulates the integration of everyday life and artistic concerns common to all three autobiographies: an integration which mutes the authors' claims of literary authority but also, more fundamentally, reflects their experiences as women. These autobiographers, then, challenge androcentric models of modernist autonomy as they reposition themselves as the mothers, not midwives, of modernism.
Gessel, Nina Henriëtte van, "Re-casting the Midwives of Modernism: Autobiographies of American Expatriate Women Publishers and Editors" (1996). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3507.