California Dreams and American Contradictions


California Dreams and American Contradictions

Women Writers and the Western Ideal

Monique McDade

266 pages


March 2023


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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March 2023


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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March 2023


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About the Book

California Dreams and American Contradictions establishes a genealogy of western American women writers publishing between 1870 and 1965 to argue that both white women and women of color regionalized dominant national literary trends to negotiate the contradictions between an American liberal individualism and American equality. Monique McDade analyzes works by María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Helen Hunt Jackson, Sui Sin Far, and a previously unstudied African American writer, Eva Rutland, to trace an archive of western American women writers who made visible what dominant genres subsumed under images of American progress and westward expansion.

Read together these writers provide new entry points into the political debates that have plagued the United States since the nation’s founding and that set the precedent for westward expansion. Their romances, regional sketches, memoirs, and journalism point to the inherently antagonistic relationship between a Rooseveltian rugged individualism that encouraged an Anglo male–dominated West and the progressive equality and opportunity the West seemingly promised disenfranchised citizens. The writers included in California Dreams and American Contradictions challenged literature’s role in creating regional division, conformist communities that support nationally sponsored images of gendered, ethnic, and immigrant others, and liberal histories validated through a strategic vocabulary rooted in “freedom,” “equality,” and “progress.”

Author Bio

Monique McDade is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Kalamazoo College.


California Dreams and American Contradictions shows great intellectual agility in its ability to make complex connections using fluent and highly readable language. It is deeply intersectional. . . . It is a book that any scholar on the topic will want to read from cover to cover, and it opens new ground for future scholarship.”—Victoria Lamont, author of Westerns: A Women’s History

“Especially in our current moment of reckoning with the legacies of exclusion and racism in the United States and globally, this study performs essential work of historical recovery and intervention. It makes a substantial contribution to feminist critical regionalism in the U.S. West and to feminist and American studies more broadly. It engages a powerful set of theoretical tools to create a sophisticated argument across disciplines and fields of study.”—Audrey Goodman, author of A Planetary Lens: The Photo-Poetics of Western Women’s Writing

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Frontier Ethic and the American Paradox
1. “Autoethnographic” Heroines: María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s Sentimental Novels, Who Would Have Thought It? and The Squatter and the Don
2. The Liberal Fantasy: Helen Hunt Jackson’s Sentimental Advocacy in Ramona
3. Sui Sin Far’s Genre of Intervention: The Regional Sketch and the “Real” in Realism
4. An Autobiography of Western American Integration: Eva Rutland and Her Alternative Politics of Respectability
Conclusion: Joan Didion’s Sacramento and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “Deep Story”

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