Schools of Fiction: American Literature and the Modern Educational System, 1880-1920


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project argues that the literature produced in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century anticipated and incited the institutional transformations associated with the emergence of the modern educational system. Scholars have tended to depict American literature as either fundamentally anti-institutional or irrevocably shaped by institutional forces. In contrast, this project demonstrates how turn-of-the-century literature demanded its own institutionalization at a time when the US educational system was fragmented and incapable of institutionalizing culture. Because writers like Henry James, Gertrude Stein, and Henry Adams were dissatisfied with the ways schools organized social experience, in their books they articulated a competing vision of how literature might cultivate its own wider, more discriminating audience. Ironically, this audience would only be summoned into existence by the twentieth-century educational system, the very institution writers of the period challenged and repudiated in their work.