Shelter in Place: Lessons on Pandemic Life from 19c American Women Writers & Culture
Shelter in Place: Lessons on Pandemic Life from 19c American Women Writers & Culture (Proposed Roundtable for SSAWW Conference, November 4-7, 2021, Baltimore, MD. Here is the full SSAWW Conference call for proposals: https://ssawwnew.wordpress.com/.)
The pandemic has blurred the lines between public and private life as well as the circumstances in which we live, labor, and love. This roundtable asks participants to consider what might be gained by giving a backward glance to the connections between contemporary pandemic life under Covid 19 and nineteenth-century representations of domestic life and culture by American women writers. Many themes that permeate these earlier writers and their historical contexts seem ever-present today—from concepts of home and home improvement; definitions of the family and the domestic, and women’s place within it; a turn to nature and the outdoors; spirituality and faith; collective grief and loss; sentimentality and fellow feeling; as well as isolation and connection. It is our hope that looking back to our sisters from another era can help us better understand and make sense of pandemic domestic life and work.
Possible questions and topics to consider:
• How did 19c women writers and American culture attempt to process and overcome loss, tragedy, and grief? What can 19c women writers and culture teach us about life and death during times of (inter)national crisis and personal hardship? Does sentimental literature still have something to teach us?
• Has the “cult of true womanhood” returned to haunt us? How do current changes in the labor market (specifically, women’s departure from it at a significantly higher rate than men, whether voluntary or involuntary) echo sentiments made by domestic literature, advice manuals and periodicals, especially those which implied women’s service to home would benefit both family and nation alike? How does this return to women as the moral center of the domestic, continue to highlight economic and racial disparities in America?
• How do women balance work and home when they become one place—when she no longer has access to “a room of one’s own”? Can the woman writer/intellectual/teacher who is also a mother, really ever have it all, especially now? How might 19c literary texts about the struggles of women who are living, laboring, and loving in less than ideal conditions encourage dialogues about how the pandemic is impacting women’s status in society and demands for equality?
• How does the home or nature—not just as physical spaces, but as concepts—figure during the pandemic and in 19c texts?
Trisha Brady, Ph.D.
Dept. of English
Maglina Lubovich, Ph.D.
Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College