Home Fronts

Domesticity and Its Critics in the Antebellum United States

Home Fronts

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 160 Illustrations: Published: October 1997

Author: Lora Romero

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Unlike studies of nineteenth-century culture that perpetuate a dichotomy of a public, male world set against a private, female world, Lora Romero’s Home Fronts shows the many, nuanced, and sometimes contradictory cultural planes on which struggles for authority unfolded in antebellum America.
Romero remaps the literary landscape of the last century by looking at the operations of domesticity on the frontier as well as within the middle-class home and by reconsidering such crucial (if sometimes unexpected) sites for the workings of domesticity as social reform movements, African-American activism, and homosocial high culture. In the process, she indicts theories of the nineteenth century based on binarisms and rigidity while challenging models of power and resistance based on the idea that "culture" has the capacity to either free or enslave. Through readings of James Fenimore Cooper, Catherine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Maria Stewart, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Romero shows how the politics of culture reside in local formulations rather than in essential and ineluctable political structures.


Home Fronts offers paradigm-shifting discussions of domesticity, canonicity, gender and New Historicism, theory and political change. It is a concentrated, demanding book, like the one that motivates its best arguments, Michel Foucault’s first volume of The History of Sexuality. Of this generation of Critics—the New Historicists and New Americanists—Romero is one of Foucault’s best and most challenging readers. . . . More than a Foucauldian critique, Home Fronts is the culmination of Romero’s project of figuring out how to bring history’s lessons home, how to embrace the messy complexity of the local, how to stay in the thick of our space and still fight to change it, how to accept that there is no pure or unimplicated place on which to stand in the struggle for social change. One of her best contributions lies in her forceful demonstration of literary criticism’s centrality to that project.” — Dana Nelson , MLQ

Home Fronts, proceeding in a manner somewhere between rumination and manifesto, stands as one of the most compelling American Studies text ever to interrogate the politics of the act of literary criticism. . . . Because of both the complexity of its readings and the level of self-interrogation it demands, Romero’s book will in some ways make it more difficult to write about nineteenth-century American culture. At the same time, the later chapters read like openings to fascinating books on the constitutive role of the discourse of domesticity in Indian removal, black nationalism, biopolitics, and male literary homosociality. Romero has greatly complicate the discussion, but she has also left us with a set of stunning blueprints.” — Gustavus Stadler , American Literature

“As Romero reminds us, the ‘sentimental’ and the ‘domestic’ are troubled categories, despite a decade of reconsideration. . . . Home Fronts offers a provocative blueprint for examining the historical reasons for this persistence of vision.” — Stephanie A. Smith , Novel

“In her compelling book, Romero rejects the familiar debate between those who condemn domesticity and those who celebrate it. . . . Highly recommended.”

— , Choice

“Romero complicates her critical evaluations with huge political, cultural, and theoretical concepts, weaving in and out of the dominant and the marginal, indeed, continually shifting notions of what these terms might denote. . . . Although the majority of Romero’s work here is already in the public domain . . . the volume offers a coherence which makes it worth the risk of duplication for the reader. . . . [T]he ideas and insights she has to offer are worth struggling for, thoroughly and productively grounded, as they are, in cultural, critical, and literary history.” — Janet Beer , American Studies

“Romero’s work offers a valuable corrective to too-easy binarisms in discussions of power or gender, and her nuanced analyses make this book essential reading for scholars considering domesticity in any era. . .”
— Laurel Bollinger , Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature

“The author deftly incorporates theories of contemporary literary critics and, through historical juxtapositions and logic, questions the theory and findings of Michel Foucault, even as they provide many of her premises. . . . Cultural historians will benefit from combining the insights of Home Fronts with the findings of social historians of consumption, gender, and literacy. . . . [A] brave and substantial revisionist beginning.” — , Journal of American History

"A landmark book in the effort to reconsider the structures of domesticity in nineteenth-century America. Home Fronts is dazzling." — Cathy N. Davidson, Duke University

"Romero’s striking command of all the recently resurrected nineteenth-century texts will make this book essential to people who work in this field." — Paul Lauter, Trinity College


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At the time of her death, Lora Romero was Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University.

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Honorable mention, 1998 John Hope Franklin Award

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2042-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2030-2
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