Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

1-1-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A. in English

First Advisor

Annette Trefzer

Second Advisor

Katie McKee

Third Advisor

Leigh Anne Duck

School

University of Mississippi

Relational Format

dissertation/thesis

Abstract

From her personal appearance as the “ugly duckling” of southern literature, to her narrative preoccupations as a writer of grotesques, Eudora Welty has been critically separated from the realm of southern beauty and femininity. Drawing textual evidence from Welty’s strategic invocation of beauty acts and products in her short fiction and autobiographical writings, this thesis insists upon Welty’s lifelong stake in beauty culture, as it is practiced by southern women across the socioeconomic spectrum. Across her body of short fiction—a substantial portion of which was first published in women’s fashion magazines—Welty details the ways in which beauty, as expressed through personal grooming rituals and consumer acts, allows women to tangibly project their interior identities to society, transcend the limitations of patriarchal authority and social class, and command creative control over their personal narratives. Bridging the gap between high culture and the everyday, Welty’s beauty-inflected writings acknowledge radical potentialities for the universal feminine experience of “making up,” thus lending a recognizable praxis for studying the conflicting and often inexplicable emotions, rituals, and iconographies that comprise beauty culture in the American South. Ultimately, I contend that Welty is preternaturally equipped as a writer to initiate the messy, yet essential communion between mainstream beauty practices and radical gender politics by revising the popular myths that surround southern womanhood, and enabling her female characters to reclaim beauty for their own socioeconomic and creative advancement.

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