An Ethic of Innocence examines representations of women in American and British fin-de-siècle and modern literature who seem “not to know” things. These naïve fools, Pollyannaish dupes, obedient traditionalists, or regressive anti-feminists have been dismissed by critics as conservative, backward, and out of sync with, even threatening to, modern feminist goals. Grounded in the late nineteenth century’s changing political and generic representations of women, this book provides a novel interpretative framework for reconsidering the epistemic claims of these women. Kristen L. Renzi analyzes characters from works by Henry James, Frank Norris, Ann Petry, Rebecca West, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and others, to argue that these feminine figures who choose not to know actually represent and model crucial pragmatic strategies by which modern and contemporary subjects navigate, survive, and even oppose gender oppression.
“An Ethic of Innocence recalibrates the critical landscape, revealing blind spots in contemporary models for thinking about knowledge and agency within a feminine context. The author builds a persuasive case from powerful close readings of texts, which invite readers to question their assumptions. I cannot now imagine the field of feminist modernist studies without the interventions of this project.” — Barbara Green, author of Feminist Periodicals and Daily Life: Women and Modernity in British Culture
“This is a fascinating and very interesting intervention about the construction of knowledge/innocence within the field of literary studies. Anyone teaching or studying this period will find it of great use.” — Stephanie A. Smith, author of Conceived by Liberty: Maternal Figures and Nineteenth-Century American Literature
Kristen L. Renzi is Associate Professor of English at Xavier University.