In a study that will radically shift our understanding of Civil War literature, Elizabeth Young shows that American women writers have been profoundly influenced by the Civil War and that, in turn, their works have contributed powerfully to conceptions of the war and its aftermath. Offering fascinating reassessments of works by white writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Mitchell and African-American writers including Elizabeth Keckley, Frances Harper, and Margaret Walker, Young also highlights crucial but lesser-known texts such as the memoirs of women who masqueraded as soldiers. In each case she explores the interdependence of gender with issues of race, sexuality, region, and nation.
Combining literary analysis, cultural history, and feminist theory, "Disarming the Nation" argues that the Civil War functioned in women's writings to connect female bodies with the body politic. Women writers used the idea of "civil war" as a metaphor to represent struggles between and within women--including struggles against the cultural prescriptions of "civility." At the same time, these writers also reimagined the nation itself, foregrounding women in their visions of America at war and in peace. In a substantial afterword, Young shows how contemporary black and white women--including those who crossdress in Civil War reenactments--continue to reshape the meanings of the war in ways startlingly similar to their nineteenth-century counterparts.
Learned, witty, and accessible, "Disarming the Nation" provides fresh and compelling perspectives on the Civil War, women's writing, and the many unresolved "civil wars" within American culture today.