Friday, December 16, 2011

Joe Sutliff Sanders's "Disciplining Girls"

Joe Sutliff Sanders is an assistant professor of English at Kansas State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Disciplining Girls: Understanding the Origins of the Classic Orphan Girl Story, and reported the following:
This was a fun exercise—thanks for asking me to play. The 99th page of Disciplining Girls is half excellent representative, half tantalizing (or so I tell myself) rabbit trail. The top of the page talks about Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic orphan girl novel The Secret Garden, especially the bizarre yet historically appropriate gender negotiations at work in Burnett’s novel. As a whole, Disciplining Girls is about how the literary histories of late sentimental woman’s fiction and early girls’ fiction intertwine, specifically over the issue discipline. The top half of this page returns to one of the main claims I make: recent literary scholarship has argued that we have over-emphasized the importance of gender in understanding sentimental fiction and its cultural uses; I argue that the only historically accurate way to understand sentimental fiction is to insist on seeing the ways that gender participated in the realignments of family, law, discipline, and emotion, at the turn of the century. Burnett’s novel, as page 99 explains, is part of the long historical process of renegotiating what role girls, mothers, boys, and fathers would play in the evolving structures of discipline.

My book is about what these novels and their ideas about discipline meant in the United States. The second half of this page, though, points out that there are specific British antecedents for the ideas about discipline in The Secret Garden. Disciplining Girls is only about these books (two of them penned by a Canadian writer, two of them by a woman who refused to define herself as either British or American) in America: a broader focus would have been too sprawling. If that focus on U.S. culture and literary history is a problem in the book’s argument—and it might well be—I like to tell myself that what I’ve done, and you can see this in the second half of the 99th page, is open the door for other readers to explain how what I said almost pertains to the cultural and literary history of, say, the U.K. or Canada. My book is in direct conversation with the smart people who came before me—why not also with the smart people who will come after me?
Learn more about Disciplining Girls at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue