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Secret Treachery of Words

Feminism and Modernism in America

2002
Author:

Elizabeth Francis

Secret Treachery of Words

Untangles the intertwined relationship between feminism and modernism through a look at four major figures of the era

In the early decades of the twentieth century, women’s pursuit of freedom and independence earned both the adulation and the scorn of American modernists. Elizabeth Francis traces this unexpected, complex strain in cultural history through the stories of four legendary American figures—Isadora Duncan, Margaret Anderson, Floyd Dell, and Josephine Herbst.

This intriguing book on the relationship between feminism and modernism in the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century is argued with force, consistency, and intelligence—a groundbreaking work.

Daniel J. Singal, author of William Faulkner: The Making of a Modernist

In the early decades of the twentieth century, women’s pursuit of freedom and independence earned both the adulation and the scorn of American modernists. Elizabeth Francis traces this unexpected, complex strain in cultural history through the stories of four legendary American figures—Isadora Duncan, Margaret Anderson, Floyd Dell, and Josephine Herbst.

The Secret Treachery of Words begins in the early 1910s, when feminism was an essential part of "the shock of the new" that modernist art and thought introduced to American culture. Francis follows an arc of treacherous repression into the 1920s and 1930s, as feminists broke out of the mold of Victorian culture only to find themselves bound by the historical representation so central to modernism.

Francis’s four portraits vividly reveal the dynamic tensions in feminist modernism: in Duncan’s performances of the female body, Anderson’s manifestos of self-expression and cultural outlawry, Dell’s advocacy of the revolutionary potential of sex, and Herbst’s insights into cultural and political marginality. Part of a new appreciation of the diversity of American modernism, The Secret Treachery of Words discloses both the centrality and the critical impasses of feminist and modernist engagements with modern culture.


Secret Treachery of Words

Elizabeth Francis teaches American history at the University of Rhode Island.

Secret Treachery of Words

Elizabeth Francis presents complex and nuanced portrayals of dancer Isadora Duncan and three American writers: Margaret Anderson, Floyd Dell, and Josephine Herbst. Francis deserves thanks and praise for resurrecting these four intellectuals.

American Historical Review

Francis seeks to recover a ‘lost history’ of feminism in the modernist movement of the early twentieth century. This makes a useful contribution to the histories of modernism and feminism in the twentieth century.

Journal of American History

This intriguing book on the relationship between feminism and modernism in the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century is argued with force, consistency, and intelligence—a groundbreaking work.

Daniel J. Singal, author of William Faulkner: The Making of a Modernist

The Secret Treachery of Words will completely alter the way women’s historians understand feminism in the interwar years. Cutting-edge.

Gail Bederman, author of Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917