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Questionable Charity
Gender, Humanitarianism, and Complicity in U.S. Literary Realism
William M. Morgan

Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

New Hampshire
2004 • 288 pp. 6 x 9"
Literary Criticism / American History

$29.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-388-2

"Questionable Charity, through its lucid prose and an equally clear sense of its intervention in current literary and cultural debates, offers an important critique, particularly of white masculinity, that complicates the relation between ethics and identitarian markers of race and gender."The Journal of American History

A fascinating reevaluation of U.S. literary realism during the Gilded Age.

In the decades following the Civil War, rapid modernization eroded and displaced the social structures that had buttressed the antebellum sense of what it meant to live as a virtuous citizen in the United States. Yet, memories of antebellum republicanism, idealism, and sentimentalism lingered, and many late-nineteenth-century intellectuals reformulated this cultural baggage, struggling to imagine new forms of democratic ethics that responded to the divisive society.

In Questionable Charity, Morgan depicts the contributions of literary realists to these efforts. Morgan situates his reading of works by William Dean Howells, Stephen Crane, Booker T. Washington, and Edith Wharton in the context of widespread labor strife, turn-of-the-century racism and imperialism, the rise of modern media culture, and the political neutrality of the United States during the early years of World War I.

Contesting previous scholarship that pigeon-holed literary realism as either “sissy” or hyper-masculine, Morgan takes a nuanced approach to a body of work deeply engaged in examining the late-Victorian conscience. In Morgan's study the genre of literary realism becomes a distinctively modern “path of inquiry” about a recurrent set of social, political, and moral dilemmas.

Reviews / Endorsements

“Morgan's explicit challenges to criticism about realist texts—including reductive claims about their embrace of aggressive masculinity and complicity with capitalism—make his work useful for readers new to or already familiar with these debates.”American Literature

“[This book] offers valuable historical material and a number of fresh readings of familiar literary texts. . . .Questionable Charity make[s] welcome contributions to scholarship on American literary realism.”The New England Quarterly

“With Questionable Charity, William Morgan calls for an important rethinking of U.S. literary realism. . . . Morgan offers an illuminating and thoughtful new approach to this much-studied and complex genre. Carefully researched and far-ranging in its implications, Questionable Charity makes an important contribution to the body of scholarship on U.S. literary realism.”—American Literary Realism

Questionable Charity recovers a neglected strain of humanitarian masculinity in realist literature. Morgan's readings are eye opening. His study announces a fresh and compelling critical voice, and it will have to be consulted by anyone interested in turn-of-the-century American culture.”Michael T. Gilmore, Paul Prosswimmer Professor of American Literature, Brandeis University

“William Morgan argues compellingly that realism, contrary to received opinion, does not reject but incorporates and transforms sentimentality. He dissects the entanglement of benevolence and power, and shows us that the complicit humanitarianism of the late 19th and early 20th century is utterly continuous with the present. This is a book which meshes intellectual history and literary criticism with wonderful subtlety and great effect.”June Howard, Professor of English, American Culture & Women's Studies, University of Michigan

WILLIAM M. MORGAN is a lecturer in the Expository Writing Program at New York University.

Fri, 6 Jul 2018 13:11:32 -0500