Dysfunctional Realism

  • Ann Petry
  • Elizabeth Hardwick
  • Jean Stafford
  • Jane Bowles


The historian Elaine Tyler May describes the immediate postwar period as one dominated by ‘The Reproductive Consensus’: ‘Procreation in the cold war era took on almost mythic proportions.’1 The baby-boom, the idealisation of the home and chil-drearing, attacks on feminism: all these features marked a period usually characterised for its reaction against the advances women had made in earlier decades. Despite women’s movement into the workplace during the war, ‘no general feminist argument was made in justification’.2 Indeed, the era saw bitter denunciations of feminism. In 1947 The Modern Woman: The Last Sex, by Marynia Farnham and Ferdinand Lundberg, argued that female sexuality found its real fulfilment in motherhood. Drawing on (pseudo)-psychoanalytical models and on historical anecdotage, the authors presented feminism as a disaster. Only by active propaganda in favour of the traditional family and sex roles could this dangerous ideology be overcome. The idealisation of home life was central to their programme of re-education. The Modern Woman quickly became a popular and influential work.3


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988), p. 135.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Carl Degler, At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 439.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Marynia Farnham and Ferdinand Lundberg, The Modern Woman: The Last Sex (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947).Google Scholar
  4. William H. Chafe, The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles, 1920–1970 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 202–6.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Chester Eisinger, Fiction of the Forties (Chicago, Ill., and London: University of Chicago Press, 1963), p. 4.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    See Thomas Hill Schaub’s dissection of Mailer, ‘Rebel without a Cause: Mailer’s White Negro and Consensus Liberalism’, in American Fiction in the Cold War (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), pp. 137–62.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (London: Pluto Press, 1983), pp. 30Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Elizabeth Hardwick, The Ghostly Lover (1945; New York: Ecco Press, 1989), p. 312.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ann Petry, The Street (1946; London: Virago, 1986).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Jean Stafford, The Mountain Lion (1947; Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1992), p. 231.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    This piece and others written for the New York Times in the early 1970s are discussed by Shelley Ratcliffe Rogers, ‘“A Heady Refreshment”: Secrecy and Horror in the Writing of Jean Stafford’, Literature and History, 3rd series, 3 (1994), pp. 31–63.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    ‘Ann Petry talks about First Novel’ (Crisis, 53, January 1946), cited and discussed by Keith Clark, ‘A Distaff Dream Deferred? Ann Petry and the Art of Subversion’, African American Review, 26 (1992), pp. 495–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 14.
    Robert Bone, The Negro Novel in America, rev. edn (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965), p. 180.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Bucklin Moon, ‘Both Sides of the Street’, New Republic (11 February 1946); reprinted in Harold Bloom (ed.), American Women Fiction Writers, 1900–60, vol. 2 (Philadelphia, Penn.: Chelsea House, 1997), pp. 162–4.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    John Ashbery, New York Times Book Review (29 January 1967); reprinted in Harold Bloom (ed.), American Women Fiction Writers, 1900–60, vol. 1 (Philadelphia, Penn.: Chelsea House, 1997), pp. 26–7Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Susan Rosowski, ‘Molly’s Truthtelling, or, Jean Stafford Rewrites the Western’, in Michael Kowalewski, Reading the West: New Essays on the Literature of the American West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 157–76Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Russell Reising, ‘Making the World Safe for Symbolism: Charles Feidelson, Jr’, in Unusable Past: Theory and the Study of American Literature (New York and London: Methuen, 1986), pp. 173–87.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Jean Stafford, A Mother in History (London: Chatto & Windus, 1966), pp. 3Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Rosalind Rosenberg, Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 147.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Elizabeth Hardwick, ‘The Art of Fiction, 87’, interview with Darryl Pinckney, Paris Review, 96 (1985), pp. 21–51Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Elizabeth Hardwick, A View of My Own: Essays in Literature and Society (London: Heinemann, 1964), p. 170.Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights (New York: Random House, 1979), p. 46.Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    Hazel Rowley, ‘Poetic Justice: Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 39 (1997), pp. 399–421.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Guy Reynolds 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann Petry
  • Elizabeth Hardwick
  • Jean Stafford
  • Jane Bowles

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations