• E-Books
  • Office of Scholarly Publishing
  • Latest Catalogs
  • Books for Courses
  • Exhibits Listing
  • View Cart

About the Book

Beyond the Book

236 pp., 6.125 x 9.25

Gender and American Culture

ISBN  978-0-8078-4332-1
Published: December 1991

Labor and Desire

Women's Revolutionary Fiction in Depression America

By Paula Rabinowitz

This critical, historical, and theoretical study looks at a little-known group of novels written during the 1930s by women who were literary radicals. Arguing that class consciousness was figured through metaphors of gender, Paula Rabinowitz 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 novel to speak about both the working-class woman and the radical female intellectual.

Two well-known novels bracket this study: Agnes Smedley's Daughters of Earth (1929) and Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps (1942). In all, Rabinowitz surveys more than forty novels of the period, many largely forgotten. Discussing these novels 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 novels as a genre, Rabinowitz is able to theorize about the interrelationship of class and gender in American culture.

Rabinowitz shows that these novels, 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.

About the Author

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).


"An important work, providing insight into a little-examined area."
--Library Journal

"[A] fine examination of women's revolutionary fiction of [the 1930s]"--American Studies

"This brilliant book makes an original and invaluable contribution to American literary history and to cultural studies. . . . [Rabinowitz] theorizes the relations among gender, genre, class, and consciousness in ways that unfailingly respect and illuminate the texts she has chosen to analyze. Because these texts themselves have been marginal to dominant accounts of American culture, this book rewrites literary history as it extends the terrain and terms on which feminism, materialism, and postmodernism can usefully meet."
--Deborah Rosenfelt, University of Maryland at College Park

"In a brillant analysis, Rabinowitz finds that the rhetoric of class struggle employed by male writers in the 1930s relied on gendered metaphors that portrayed the working class as masculine and virile while representing the bourgeoisie as feminine and corrupt."

"[This] powerful and convincing analysis of the novels of Tillie Olsen, Meridel LeSueur, Josephine Herbst and Tess Slesinger, among others, suggests that the intersection of class and gender concerns led to a more subtle and assertive rendering of female subjects in the revolutionary novels of the 1930s."
--Women's Review of Books

"In this powerful and illuminating study of radical women writers during the 1930s, Paula Rabinowitz deftly combines feminist literary theory with historically grounded social analysis. Her work exemplifies the rich promise of feminist scholarship in that it not only recovers and re-evaluates the suppressed writings of radical women, but it also explains with clarity and precision how gendered metaphors shaped the language of class conflict in 1930s America. Labor and Desire is not only a welcome addition to the intellectual and literary history of the 1930s, but it stands on its own as a powerful demonstration of the merits of combining feminist scholarship with a class analysis."
--George Lipsitz, University of California, San Diego

© 2016 The University of North Carolina Press
116 South Boundary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-3808
How to Order | Make a Gift | Privacy