Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Virginia Blum

Second Advisor

Dr. Andrew Doolen


This project recovers and revises late nineteenth and early twentieth-century narratives of mobility which invoke female protagonists who move from stifling, patriarchal domestic settings in the rural and suburban United States to the more symbolically emancipated settings of New York City and even Europe to reveal both the limitations and possibilities for women’s lives in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. By challenging popular American fiction’s preoccupation with urban white slavery myths and the lingering proscriptive standards for women’s behavior of the Victorian era, the Introduction argues the selected works of this dissertation mark a significant, but perhaps fleeting moment in American history when women were on the verge of profound gains toward equality. Chapter Two reads Gertrude Atherton’s late nineteenth-century interrogation of intimate and professional mobility in Patience Sparhawk as a significant precursor, if not prototype, of the recently recognized middlebrow moderns of the 1920s. Chapter Three examines Edith Wharton’s competing views of mobility and motherhood in The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and Summer. Chapter Four aims to recover David Graham Phillips’ posthumously published novel, Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, as a complicated engagement with unconventional views of mobility and prostitution in early twentieth-century America, and Chapter Five argues that Jessie Redmon Fauset’s oft-maligned, sentimental novel, Plum Bun, warrants more critical attention for its revolutionary efforts to imagine an alternative cultural aesthetic whereby young, aspiring African-American women can acquire intimate and professional fulfillment through an empowering transnational mobility. Recognizing how stories of fallen womanhood in American literature traditionally overemphasized and criminalized a woman’s desire for intimacy, while stories of New Womanhood often scripted characters ultimately devoid of desire and companionship, I argue Atherton, Wharton, Phillips and Fauset examine and challenge these categories of womanhood in important, often overlooked, depictions of mobility. Too often dismissed or excused for their conservativism, these authors warrant more attention from modern literary scholars for their shared, varied, and intentionally “moving” experiences for women in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century America.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)