Date of Graduation

5-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

English

Advisor

Lisa Hinrichsen

Committee Member

Susan Marren

Second Committee Member

M. Keith Booker

Keywords

Language, Literature and linguistics; Social sciences; American literature; Bellamann; McMurtry; Metalious; Regionalism; Revolt from the village

Abstract

“Beyond Main Street” examines the impact and legacy of the literary movement that Carl Van Doren, in an infamous 1920 article from The Nation, referred to as the “revolt from the village.” This movement, which is widely acknowledged to encompass such writers as Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis, pushed back against the primacy of the heretofore-dominant pastoral tradition when it came to depictions of rural America. These authors sought to create a more accurate portrayal of the small town, one that, while not completely eschewing the pastoral, also exposed the more seedy side of village life. Critics typically view this movement (if they view it at all) as one grounded in a very specific time period, usually from around 1915 until about 1930 or so. There is little extant research about the influence of this movement after 1930, and it remains a kind of cultural footnote in the legacy of literary modernism. To say that, after this period, depictions of the small town simply reverted to notions of the pastoral, though, would be oversimplification at best.

This project argues that, as with so much of modernism, what began as a flouting of convention developed into an established paradigm. The “revolt” is no longer a “revolt” as such, because its conceptions of small-town America have become a lasting motif in American literature of the twentieth century and beyond. The pastoral image of the village functions now as a kind of simulacrum, an ideal that still permeates the American cultural imagination, but it is rarely given legitimate consideration in literary depictions of individual towns. Rather, I argue, the individual village has become a construction ripe for critique in an increasingly modern and urbanized society. In this project I examine three popular novels from the mid-twentieth century, Henry Bellamann’s Kings Row (1940), Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place (1956), and Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show (1965), in order to illustrate this paradigm shift which can be traced directly back to the “revolt from the village.”

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