Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson’s short fiction: gender and genre in the Late Nineteenth Century literary imagination
Pritzker, Robyn Joanne
This thesis situates the short fiction of Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson in relation to the canon of late nineteenth century literature, tracing the ways that Stevenson’s texts draw from multiple generic traditions and speak to the development of American women’s supernatural literature. Using critical theories of the Gothic, the wonder tale, the adventure story, the animal fable, and the local colour story, I explore how the short fictions written by Stevenson between 1875 and 1900 interrogate discourses of anxiety, authority, and identity. Evaluating, in all, thirteen stories, the study distinguishes four central trends in Stevenson’s writing and dedicates one chapter to each. Chapter one examines how Stevenson’s writing engages with the transatlantic New Woman literary figure and the uncanny spectres of domesticity and public life which plague her. Chapter two focuses on Stevenson’s Californian stories, and reads across the layered hauntings and traumas of that region and its inhabitants. Chapter three explores the ways that Stevenson’s tales of U.S. imperialism extends the American colonial literary imagination overseas. Finally, chapter four investigates five of Stevenson’s wonder tales, three of which I discovered during archival research for this thesis and which have never been published or officially acknowledged in any accounts of Stevenson’s life or writing until now. The theoretical frameworks for this thesis include affect theory, approaches from psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, and critical perspectives on the intersections of the Gothic and American identity. Overall, this study strives to bring attention to the ways in which nation, genre, and identificatory anxieties shape women’s literature in this period, by locating Stevenson’s writing in relation to other traditions of late nineteenth century women’s fiction, rather than understanding her significance in terms of her husband Robert Louis Stevenson, the axis around which her place in history has usually been seen to rotate. Reading the multiple meanings of Stevenson’s texts, each chapter brings distinct generic tendencies within turn of the century women’s literature into a common narrative. By considering the crucial role this experimental genre work plays in understandings of late nineteenth century literature, this thesis demonstrates the utility of reintegrating work like Stevenson’s into mainstream women’s literary narratives, and argues for the inclusion of more diverse and lesser-known voices within literary history and criticism.