Edna Ferber's short story “Sisters Under Their Skin” deserves a new reading in the context of the gender politics of the 1910s. The story dramatizes an intra-movement struggle in first-wave feminism between what some perceived as a Victorian ethos of moral uplift and a more modern emphasis on women's economic equality and professional dignity. Although some critics argue Ferber ignores contemporary labor unrest in her depiction of harmony among women workers, this study asserts that Ferber is attuned to this context, offering a utopian antidote to the oppressive, inhumane working conditions that sparked these protests. Nevertheless, Ferber is limited by not only her own world-view but the expectations of a middlebrow readership as well; her appeal to their ideas about individualism and the American dream hinders her from offering a truly radical alternative to not only nineteenth-century suffragism but to Progressive Era politics as well.
Feminism and Work in Edna Ferber's “Sisters Under Their Skin”
LESLIE PETTY is Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She also serves on the Executive Board of the American Literature Association. Her research focuses on the intersection of first wave feminism and American literature. Dr. Petty's first book, Romancing the Vote: Feminist Activism in American Literature, was published by the University of Georgia Press. She has published and presented on a wide array of authors, including Henry James, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Djuna Barnes, and Willa Cather. She is currently working on a book about the influence of avant-garde feminism on early American Modernism.
Leslie Petty; Feminism and Work in Edna Ferber's “Sisters Under Their Skin”. Studies in the American Short Story 1 April 2020; 1 (1): 19–37. doi: https://doi.org/10.5325/studamershorstor.1.1.0019
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