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Romantic Irony in the Short Fiction of Rebecca Harding Davis

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Abstract As the author of some 275 short stories, over a dozen novels, and hundreds of juvenile stories and journalistic essays, Rebecca Harding Davis’ prolific output spanning more than five decades naturally invites—and challenges—categorization. Although her novels were well-received, it was the short stories she published chiefly in periodicals, with only one collection in book form, “that earned her greatest critical praise.” Romanticism, sentimentalism, regionalism, realism, and naturalism are all justifiably invoked to explain aspects of her oeuvre, with the palm probably going to realism. But in her pioneering study Sharon Harris claimed that if Davis was a realist, she was often an ironic realist; and more recently Harris has acknowledged that pigeonholing her fiction as “realism” can be misleading since she “was much more diverse in her choices of genres” than that label suggests.1 It is with some trepidation that one ventures to add another to the heap of competing labels, but this paper will argue that many of her stories exhibit the traits commonly categorized as romantic irony. As G. R. Thompson and West have argued, a predilection for romantic irony was shared by all the major figures of American Romanticism and is to some extent at odds with realism
University of Illinois Press
Title: Romantic Irony in the Short Fiction of Rebecca Harding Davis
Description:
Abstract As the author of some 275 short stories, over a dozen novels, and hundreds of juvenile stories and journalistic essays, Rebecca Harding Davis’ prolific output spanning more than five decades naturally invites—and challenges—categorization.
Although her novels were well-received, it was the short stories she published chiefly in periodicals, with only one collection in book form, “that earned her greatest critical praise.
” Romanticism, sentimentalism, regionalism, realism, and naturalism are all justifiably invoked to explain aspects of her oeuvre, with the palm probably going to realism.
But in her pioneering study Sharon Harris claimed that if Davis was a realist, she was often an ironic realist; and more recently Harris has acknowledged that pigeonholing her fiction as “realism” can be misleading since she “was much more diverse in her choices of genres” than that label suggests.
1 It is with some trepidation that one ventures to add another to the heap of competing labels, but this paper will argue that many of her stories exhibit the traits commonly categorized as romantic irony.
As G.
R.
Thompson and West have argued, a predilection for romantic irony was shared by all the major figures of American Romanticism and is to some extent at odds with realism.

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