American Domesticity: From How-to Manual to Hollywood Melodrama

Hardcover | April 1, 1999

byKathleen Anne McHugh

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From the cult of domesticity to the Semiotics of the Kitchen, housekeeping has been central to both constructing and critiquing the role of women in American society. Frequently domesticity's style has been to make invisible the labor that produces it, allowing woman to be asserted or arguedabout in universal terms that downplay race, class, and material relations. American Domesticity considers this relationship in representations of domesticity and domestic labor over the last two centuries in didactic, cinematic, and feminist texts. While the domestic is usually conceived of as theantithesis of the public, economical, and political, Kathleen McHugh demonstrates how domestic discourse established the terms within which the most crucial national issues--the market economy, universal white male suffrage, slavery, the construction of racial difference, consumerism, spectatorship,desire, and even feminism--were conceived, assimilated, and understood. Beginning in the nineteenth century, the book investigates the historical roots of domestic labors invisibility in widely circulated didactic housekeeping manuals written by Lydia Child, Catherine Beecher, Mary Pattison, andChristine Frederick. It then considers how pedagogical discourses became entertainment discourses, their focus shifting from the silent era of film to the twilight of the classical period. The book concludes with an examination of the return of a pedagogical impulse within feminist film productionconcerning domesticity, comparing it to the concurrent rise of feminist film theory in the academy. Looking at this wide range of print and film texts, McHugh traces the outlines of a discourse of domesticity that claims to be private and universal but instead brokers difference within the publicsphere.

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From the cult of domesticity to the Semiotics of the Kitchen, housekeeping has been central to both constructing and critiquing the role of women in American society. Frequently domesticity's style has been to make invisible the labor that produces it, allowing woman to be asserted or arguedabout in universal terms that downplay race, ...

Kathleen Anne McHugh is at University of California at Riverside.
Format:HardcoverPublished:April 1, 1999Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195122615

ISBN - 13:9780195122619

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"[McHugh's] marvelously refreshing...Foucault-inspired investigation into the cult of true womanhood and the evolution of home economics sets up what she argues are the terms of a domestic femininity whose presence can be felt far into the twentieth century in representations of whitewomanhood in the Hollywood classical period all the way through to feminist filmmakers of the 1970s.... McHugh's innovative analysis brings historical studies of film and domesticity together with theories of identity and nation in a work that is bound to provoke useful debates."--The Journal ofAmerican History