Laura Smith

Literature of Parlor Culture

Perhaps you might be interested in nineteenth-century American literature that engages notions of "parlor culture." You might consider

a. Caroline Kirkland's A New Home: Who'll Follow?, 1839, in which Kirkland describes a move to the Michigan frontier: "so I sought shelter in a log-house at no great distance, to await the conclusion of the survey. […] The room was occupied at one end by two large beds no partitioned off 'private like,' but curtained in with cotton sheets pinned to the unhewn rafters. Between them stood a chest, and over the chest hung the Sunday wardrobe of the family […]."

b. as someone mentioned in the seminar, Fanny Fern's 1854 Ruth Hall, in which the protagonist moves from a Downingesque cottage to a boardinghouse.

c. Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884 (written 1876-1883), with such gems as Huck's dad saying of Huck's residence with Widow Douglas, "'Ain't you a sweet-scented dandy, though? A bed; and bedclothes; and a look'n-glass; and a piece of carpet on the floor-and your own father got to sleep with the hogs in the tanyard. I never see such a son. I bet I'll take some o' these frills out o' you before I'm done with you. Why there ain't no end to your airs-they say you're rich. Hey?-how's that?'"

d. Mary Wilkins Freeman's "The Revolt of 'Mother,'" 1891, in which Sarah Penn turns her husband's new barn into the long-promised "nice" house she'd always wanted. Gesturing at her current house, she warns him beforehand, "'You see there ain't no carpet on the floor, an' you see the paper is all dirty, an' droppin' off the walls. We ain't had no new paper on it for ten year, an' then I put it on myself, an' it didn't cost but ninepence a roll. You see this room, father; it's all the one I've had to workin an' eat in an' sit in sence we was married [forty years ago]. There ain't another woman in the whole town whose husband ain't got half the means you have but what's got better.'"

You can certainly find hundreds of other samples, but I thought of these first.

Best wishes,