NEW ARTICLE | ‘Wayward and Untrained Years’: Reforming the ‘Wayward Girl’ in The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Jennie Gerhardt
Hainze, Emily. “‘Wayward and Untrained Years’: Reforming the ‘Wayward Girl’ in The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Jennie Gerhardt.” Studies in American Fiction 46, no. 2 (2019): 341–72
From the Article
This essay pairs Du Bois’s The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Dreiser’s Jennie Gerhardt and examines how both these 1911 novels take up the question of young women’s “waywardness,” or departure from traditional domestic mores. The heightened alarm over the “wayward girl” emerged in the 1910s as immigration, migration, and urbanization
transformed the United States, and Progressive Era reform campaigns around prostitution and social “vice”—intended to police unconventional social and sexual relationships in the modernizing social order—reached full tilt. I suggest that Dreiser and Du Bois embrace and exploit the possibilities for social transformation inherent in the period’s moral
panic over the working-class adolescent girl’s “incorrigibility,” reframing the uncertain trajectory and liminal position of the wayward girl in modernizing American society as an opportunity to radically reimagine newly modern social life in the second decade of the twentieth century.