"I am particularly impressed with Bloomberg’s insights about the ways in which women writers’ urge to harness the power of women’s myths has to some extent been aroused by historical forces. . . . She explains that women’s desire to reinvent their identities requires that women writers take over the narrative tools (such as mythic allusions) provided them by male writers and use those tools to build their own textual ‘house.’"--Mary Lowe-Evans, University of West Florida
Tracing Arachne's Web examines the use of myth in works by American women novelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, showing how both classical allusions and ethnic folk myth liberated these writers and enabled them to understand and experience their social and economic worlds.
Using the metaphor of Demeter and Persephone as her framework, Kristin Mapel Bloomberg identifies a cycle in women’s fiction that moves from the utopian world of Demeter’s garden in the late 19th century to the experience of isolated women in the patriarchal underworld of literary modernism. Examining the works of Sarah Orne Jewett, Emma D. Kelley-Hawkins, Onoto Watanna (aka Winnifred Eaton), Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Edith Wharton, and Djuna Barnes, she develops a model of women’s writing that ties these writers’ fascination with the occult and Greek mythology to T. S. Eliot’s notion of the “mythical method.” Drawing from history and popular culture, she demonstrates how women of color responded to many of the same cultural currents as white writers. She does this, moreover, by analyzing the coded strategies followed by women of color to get their books into print, without collapsing race into gender issues.
Invariably provocative, Bloomberg’s writing creates a picture of female power in turn-of-the-century American fiction in which women writers turned to alternative spiritual ideologies and occult philosophies to investigate tensions between racism, sexism, and classicism. This book will appeal to scholars in American studies, literary criticism, women’s studies, and cultural studies.
Kristin M. Mapel Bloomberg, associate professor of English and women's studies at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, holds the Hamline University Chair in the Humanities and is also Director of the Women's Studies Program.