Link to the University of Pittsburgh Homepage
Link to the University Library System Homepage Link to the Contact Us Form

A Free Union?: The Sexual Politics of Progressive-Era Socialist Novels

Williamson, Alicia (2013) A Free Union?: The Sexual Politics of Progressive-Era Socialist Novels. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

Primary Text

Download (2MB) | Preview


“A Free Union?” is the first comprehensive critical study of novels written by members of the Socialist Party of America (SP) from 1901 to 1917. Published mostly by mainstream presses at the height of the Party’s public influence, this set of novels predates the formal theorization of a coherent radical aesthetic but offers an apt case study of the profound interplay between radical and popular imaginaries in the early twentieth-century U.S. While critics often dismiss the politics and literature of the early SP as hopelessly inconsistent, “A Free Union?” asserts that their radical potential lies precisely in their accommodation of ideological and aesthetic diversity.
Specifically, this study focuses on the dynamic intersections of sexual, political, and economic discourses in SP novels, tracing their influences on ongoing debates about Party theory and strategy as well as on public understandings of sexuality. The SP, with its patriotic and electoral orientations, often posed socialism as the means for the final achievement of a “more perfect union.” Hence, “A Free Union?” invokes the multiple forms of purportedly voluntary and legal unions—conjugal, economic, and political—that factor into this nationalistic socialist imaginary as well as the metaphorical and discursive overlaps among them. Contending that popular SP novels offered a unique site for interrogating and imagining alternatives to such unions, this project likewise interrogates the ideological ramifications of the means and ends of socioeconomic transformation posed by and figured in these narratives. Starting with the predominant genre of the socialist marriage plot, the chapters consider the ways in which the conventions of both popular culture and socialist theory are taken up and revised by subsequent novels that foreground evolutionary tropes, prostitution, and free love. In doing so, this project argues for seeing gender, sexuality, and literature—all of which tended to be marginalized in official Party politics—as key arenas in which contemporary understandings of socialism were being contested and articulated. “A Free Union?” further concludes that socialist novelists produced innovations in literary and sexual representation that ultimately challenged authoritarian and orthodox modes of socialism in favor of more feminist and dialectical models.


Social Networking:
Share |


Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairScott, William Davidwdscott@pitt.eduWDSCOTT
Committee MemberArac,
Committee MemberGlazener, Nancyglazener@pitt.eduGLAZENER
Committee MemberSmith, Susanshs1@pitt.eduSHS1
Committee MemberZboray, Ronaldzboray@pitt.eduZBORAY
Date: 2 July 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 11 April 2013
Approval Date: 2 July 2013
Submission Date: 18 April 2013
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 266
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: socialism, sexuality, radical novels, Socialist Party of America, political literature
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2013 16:19
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2018 05:15


Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item