This critical, historical, and theoretical study looks at a little-kwn group of vels written during the 1930s by women who were literary radicals. Arguing that class consciousness was figured through metaphors of gender, Paula Rabiwitz challenges the conventional wisdom that feminism as a discourse disappeared during the decade. She focuses on the ways in which sexuality and maternity reconstruct the classic proletarian vel to speak about both the working-class woman and the radical female intellectual. Two well-kwn vels bracket this study: Agnes Smedley's Daughters of Earth (1929) and Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps (1942). In all, Rabiwitz surveys more than forty vels of the period, many largely forgotten. Discussing these vels in the contexts of literary radicalism and of women's literary tradition, she reads them as both cultural history and cultural theory. Through a consideration of the vels as a genre, Rabiwitz is able to theorize about the interrelationship of class and gender in American culture. Rabiwitz shows that these vels, generally dismissed as marginal by scholars of the literary and political cultures of the 1930s, are in fact integral to the study of American fiction produced during the decade. Relying on recent feminist scholarship, she reformulates the history of literary radicalism to demonstrate the significance of these women writers and to provide a deeper understanding of their work for twentieth-century American cultural studies in general.
Paula Rabinowitz is professor of English at the University of Minnesota. Her works include They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary and Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940 (co-edited with Charlotte Nekola).