Whiteness in the Novels of Charles W. Chesnutt

Whiteness in the Novels of Charles W. Chesnutt

by Matthew Wilson

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Overview

Whiteness in the Novels of Charles W. Chesnutt by Matthew Wilson.

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932), critically acclaimed for his novels, short stories, and essays, was one of the most ambitious and influential African American writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today recognized as a major innovator of American fiction, Chesnutt is an important contributor to de-romanticizing trends in post-Civil War southern literature, and a singular voice among turn-of-the-century realists who wrote about race in American life.

Whiteness in the Novels of Charles W. Chesnutt is the first study to focus exclusively on Chesnutt's novels. Examining the three published in Chesnutt's lifetime-The House Behind the Cedars, The Marrow of Tradition, and The Colonel's Dream-as well as his posthumously published novels, this study explores the dilemma of a black writer who wrote primarily for a white audience.

Throughout, Matthew Wilson analyzes the ways in which Chesnutt crafted narratives for his white readership and focuses on how he attempted to infiltrate and manipulate the feelings and convictions of that audience.

Wilson pays close attention to the genres in which Chesnutt was working and also to the social and historical context of the novels. In articulating the development of Chesnutt's career, Wilson shows how Chesnutt's views on race evolved. By the end of his career, he felt that racial differences were not genetically inherent, but social constructions based on our background and upbringing. Finally, the book closely examines Chesnutt's unpublished manuscripts that did not deal with race. Even in these works, in which African Americans are only minor characters, Wilson finds Chesnutt engaged with the conundrum of race, and reveals him as one of America's most significant writers on the subject.

Matthew Wilson is a professor of humanities and writing at Penn State University, Harrisburg.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604732481
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
Publication date: 05/28/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.63(d)

Table of Contents

Introductionix
1Chesnutt's Racial Nonfiction: Theorizing Race3
2The White Novels: Melodrama and Popular Fiction20
3Mandy Oxendine: The Protocols of Tragic Mulatta Fiction45
4The House Behind the Cedars: Race Melodrama and the White Audience59
5The Marrow of Tradition: Living to Tell the Tale99
6The Colonel's Dream: The Eccentric Design of Charles W. Chesnutt's New South Novel148
7Paul Marchand, F.M.C.: The Strange Alchemy of Race183
8The Quarry: "No White Person of Sound Mind Would Ever Claim to Be a Negro"201
Postscript222
Notes226
Works Cited240
Index251

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