Critics have typically treated Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) either as a portrayal of a dying New England town or, more recently, as a depiction of a powerful but marginalized female community. Both kinds of readings remove the novel from its historical context, thereby overlooking the ways in which Jewett addressed national political issues and debates. By contrast, this essay argues that Jewett's work involves itself in a turn-of-the-century progressive discourse about class conflict and woman's labor. Comparing Jewett's work to Jane Addams's Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910), the essay shows how upper-class progressive feminists combined ideas from the "cult of domesticity" with new ideas about woman's role as a consumer of culture to imagine themselves as particularly able to understand and transcend difference. For these women, the cultivated lady tourist becomes the model figure who can unite teh divided nation. While this new vision of class conflict and woman's labor did not reverse the hierarchies of the national culture, it did attempt to create a new relation between margin and center, especially a new relation between woman's labor and the larger society.
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