"A house divided against itself cannot stand": true woman and the civil war
Hand, Charlotte Jesamin
Date of Issue2017-05-19
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Scholarships on Godey’s Lady’s Book, the “premier national magazine for women” in nineteenth-century America, has largely argued that the publication had cut the American Civil War out of its pages (Belasco 265). Critical convention has been to dismiss the key components of the magazine – domesticity, fashion, and sentimental literature – as trivial or irrelevant within the context of the Civil War. The operative question in such treatment is: how could a magazine of “sentimental literature and frivolous taste” fit into the discourse of war (Lehuu 73)? My paper proposes a re-examination of Godey’s within the larger context of social conditions in wartime America. Divided Houses, a study on gender in the civil war, has shown that wartime necessity destabilised traditional structures, resulting in the breakdown of rigid gender categories and sexual barriers. Following this, American women began defying nineteenth-century doctrines not only by taking on more public roles such as nursing and forming political groups but also in more extreme behaviour such as cross-dressing, participating in riots and guerilla warfare, behaving violently towards soldiers, challenging male authority, and indulging in frivolity. Female gender identity gained an uncertainty and a mutability that threatened the continuation of American society. If one approaches the Civil War as “a crisis in [the female] gender,” a different perspective on the magazine’s political stance arises (Whites 2). Godey’s fixation on the ideology of true womanhood is not simply an effort to boycott the subject of politics, but is instead a political response to America’s social instability.
Final Year Project (FYP)