Networking subversion: a feminist analysis of the modernist salon

Olsen, Chelsea (2018) Networking subversion: a feminist analysis of the modernist salon. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis offers a feminist theorisation of a vital—yet understudied—cultural institution of modernism: the salon. Taking existing feminist scholarship on the 17th- and 18th-century salon as a point of departure, I analyse how the modernist salon—namely, its female host(s) and the body of work it inspired—problematises masculinist histories of modernism’s development and canon. To do this, I take three American women-led salons from the first half of the 20th century as case studies: Gertrude Stein’s salon at 27 rue de Fleurus; Natalie Clifford Barney’s salon at 20 rue Jacob; and Florine, Ettie, and Carrie Stettheimer’s salon in New York’s Upper West Side. With each case study, I combine archival research with literary and artistic analysis to: a) recreate the salon’s atmosphere and gender dynamics; b) analyse how the salonière(s)’s beliefs and goals influenced her salon’s format; and, c) assess the salon’s influence on its host(s)’s and habitués’ cultural output, examining how salon-inspired art and literary works subvert gendered codes of behaviour and appearance. In doing so, I argue that the modernist salon worked to deconstruct sexual and artistic hierarchical binaries—such as male/female, masculine/feminine, heterosexual/queer, ‘high’ art/’low’ art, and public/domestic—and advance a subversive feminist politics; yet, the form these politics adopted depended entirely upon the practices, goals, and values of the individual salonière.

The thesis consists of five sections. The introduction situates the thesis within existing salon theory and modernist studies, highlighting its unique contribution to research (as a feminist theorisation of the modernist salon), and outlines the thesis’ theoretical underpinnings, methodology, and structure. The first chapter focuses on how Stein’s gender-segregated salon provided her with the tools for her own self-promotion and subversive word portraits. The second chapter analyses Barney’s women-centric salon and how its explicitly feminist mandate to build and empower a community of (mostly queer) women writers influenced (and derived from) Barney’s feminist pensées and memoirs and habitué Djuna Barnes’ Ladies Almanack. The third chapter examines the Stettheimer salon and how its three sister hosts designed their salon as the medium for establishing their feminist legacy through an expansive literary and artistic oeuvre. The conclusion highlights the stark contrast between the Stein, Barney, and Stettheimer salons in order to emphasise the role of the salonière in curating the salon’s feminist politics and proposes directions for further research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS0185 By period > PS0221 20th century > PS0228.A-Z Special topics, A-Z > PS0228.F45 Feminism
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2018 14:50
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

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