18th Annual American Literature Association Conference 2007

May 24-27, Boston MA.
Panel: “The Grotesque in the Work of Susan Glaspell, Djuna Barnes, Zora Neal Hurston
and Their Modernist Contemporaries.”
Chair: Mary E. Papke, University of Tennessee.

As Philip Thomson argues in his The Grotesque, the grotesque depends for its effect on disharmony and ambiguity, an interruption of the normal by an eruption of the freakish, the ominous, and the estranged. He goes on to argue that it most often appears in art and literature during periods of great strife, radical change, or profound disorientation, periods, that is, like that of the modernists in which artists responded in their works to both national and international crises and possibilities. The American literary grotesque is exemplified in the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Flannery O’Connor, but it is not totally surprising that it also figures in important ways in the work of early modernists who were determined to break with the sentimental and romantic movements that preceded their emergence and to make of American literature something shockingly new. The grotesque in art is typically defined as work in which the natural and the monstrous are intertwined in bizarre or fanciful combinations; somewhat strangely, then, the grotesque character elicits from the reader both disgust and empathy in that such a character repulses us even as it whets our desire to understand its otherness. In Glaspell’s work, we see the grotesque emerge both in her plays (such as The Verge) and in her novels (Fugitive’s Return, for example), two examples that indicate well the different uses to which the grotesque can be put. Other modernists employ the grotesque in similarly innovative ways.

Papers:  “‘Getting at things in terms of the preposterous’: The Satiric Grotesque in Susan Glaspell’s World War I-Era Stories,” Martha C. Carpentier, Seton Hall University;

“Macabre Revelations: The Grotesque and Eugenics in Glaspell and MacKaye,” Kimberly A. Miller, Fort Hays State University;

“The Grotesque Tradition and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Mary McAleer Balkun, Seton Hall University.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.