New Money in American Novel: 1920 - 1936

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New Money in American Novel: 1920 - 1936

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Title: New Money in American Novel: 1920 - 1936
Author: Manoharan, Marcella Frydman
Citation: Manoharan, Marcella Frydman. 2013. New Money in American Novel: 1920 - 1936. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines representations of the distinction between new and old money in 1920s American novels. New money is earned or acquired, while old money is inherited. The distinction itself reveals the ethos out of which it emerges; the sources of money only become important when money appears to be on the loose, circulating, and ending up in unpredictable hands. In the context of increased access to liquidity, the distinction of new and old money expresses a conflict over social legitimacy and the definition of an American elite. This concern with legitimation, in turn, gives rise to a set of binaries pertaining to social position, including the distinction of born versus inherited, authentic versus artificial, and historical versus fictional. I argue that representations of money, or “money stories,” become a legible discourse of social legitimation in this period. Bringing together texts typically segmented by the modes of naturalism, realism, and modernism, I reveal the dominance of this legitimating discourse and, in particular, the centrality of the distinction between new and old money across novels of the period. The project consists of readings articulating the distinction between new and old money. Chapter one situates Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street and Babbitt within the context of 1920s ambivalence around the frontier myth, arguing that, in Lewis, the problem of the loss of land is the problem of the loss of a legitimating ground for a moneyed elite. Chapter two reads Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence as a study in the dialectical relationship of new and old money, revealing old money’s account of genealogical inheritance as a carefully constructed response to new money’s power of purchase. Chapter three argues that new money is a particularly rich site for fiction in F. Scott Fitzgerald, who continually restaged the confrontation between old money’s silent, assumed history and new money’s profusion of fictional accounts of its past. Chapter four treatsJohn Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy as a reflection on the biographical form in the context of liquidity, taking stock of the money story, that peculiar genre of legitimation so prevalent in this period’s novels.
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