"All-Electric" Narratives: Time-Saving Appliances and Domesticity in 20th-century American Literature

Research output: Book/ReportBook

Abstract

This book is the first-ever study of the representation of domestic time-saving electrical appliances in twentieth-century American literature. It examines the literary depiction of refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, oven ranges, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, toasters, blenders, standing and hand-held mixers, and microwave ovens across a range of literary genres and forms published between the early 1910s, as Fordism and Taylorism entered the home, and the 2010s, as contemporary writers consider the enduring material and spiritual effects of these objects into the twenty-first century. The book argues that literary scholarship has too long ignored the influence of electrification on literary form, and of domestic electrification on the literary representation of home and on shifting understandings of the relationship between the home, body, and nation. Using material from the Westinghouse and General Electric archives as well as from antiquarians and book collectors across the United States, the book shows how appliance depictions over the last century have engaged with the shifting meanings of domestic electrification and technology by emulating or parodying the rhetoric and imagery used to promote these same appliances in user manuals, recipe pamphlets, and print, radio, and television ads. It further argues that the appropriation and subversion of the rhetoric of domestic electrification comprised a crucial, but overlooked, element in specific twentieth-century literary forms and genres including postmodernist fiction, science fiction, and second-wave feminist fiction. “All-Electric” Narratives thus demonstrates the extent to which American writers over the last century have enlisted appliances to raise questions about gender norms and sexuality, racial exclusion and erasure, class anxieties, the ramifications of mechanisation and the potential replacement of humans by robots, the perils and possibilities of conformity, the limitations of patriotism, and the inevitable fallacy of utopian thinking—while both shaping and radically disrupting the literary forms in which they operated.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherBloomsbury
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • electricity
  • American literature
  • twentieth century
  • twentieth-century fiction
  • science fiction
  • African American fiction
  • second-wave feminism
  • electrification
  • domestic space studies
  • domesticitiy
  • Cold War
  • New Deal
  • American culture
  • historical materialism
  • appliances
  • domestic labour

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