Kaye Wierzbicki, “The Formal and the Foreign: Sarah Orne Jewett’s Garden Fences and the Meaning of Enclosure” (pp. 56-91)
This essay argues that Sarah Orne Jewett theorizes garden design—particularly the question of whether or not a garden should be fenced—in order to theorize the aesthetic and social implications of her local color genre. Specifically, Jewett’s polemical defense of the garden fence is central to her ability to incorporate foreignness into her fictional landscapes. By placing Jewett’s garden-centric writing into the context of American garden history, this essay counters the prevailing notion that garden fences are transhistorical symbols of rigid protectionism and cultural exclusivity. Instead, Jewett’s garden fences should also be read as theoretically loaded and historically specific sites in the late-nineteenth-century debate between the fence-dismantling garden naturalists and the Colonial Revivalists who sought to preserve or re-erect these fences. As Jewett’s participation in this debate reveals, a garden fence can become a mechanism for defining “the local” as a formal practice that embraces foreignness, in contrast to competing definitions of “the local” that privilege native plants and native persons. Ultimately, Jewett uncovers new theoretical possibilities in the fenced, formal, Colonial Revivalist garden in order to make a case for the cultural expansiveness permitted by local color writing.
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