Robert Frost and Feminine Literary Tradition

frostbk795pix300dpiDespite Robert Frost’s continuing popularity with the public, the poet remains an outsider in the academy, where more ostensibly difficult and innovative poets like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are presented as the great American modernists. Robert Frost and Feminine Literary Tradition considers the reason for this disparity, exploring the interrelationship between popularity, masculinity, and greatness. Karen Kilcup reveals Frost’s subtle links with earlier feminine traditions like sentimental poetry and New England regionalist fiction, traditions fostered by such well-known women precursors and contemporaries as Lydia Sigourney, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. She argues that Frost altered and finally obscured the feminine voices and values that informed his earlier published work, and that to appreciate his achievement fully, we need to recover and acknowledge the power of his affective, emotional voice in counterpoint and collaboration with his more familiar ironic and humorous tones.

Robert Frost and Feminine Literary Tradition also explores the links between cultural femininity and homoeroticism in Frost’s work, and investigates the conjunctions and disjunctions between Frost and such modernist women poets as Amy Lowell and Edna St. Vincent Millay. The book contributes to ongoing debates about sentimentalism, regionalism, modernism, and the cultural construction of gender in American literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With its interest in popular magazines, folktales, gossip, and children’s literature, the book also engages elements of cultural studies and popular culture.  Enabling today’s readers to see the famous poet as unfamiliar, Kilcup foregrounds the powerful “poetics of empathy” that underwrites many of his finest works.


Praise for Robert Frost and Feminine Literary Tradition:

“This is a thickly layered study. . . . Kilcup admirably resists reducing Frost’s complexity within any one of her interpretive frames. . . . [She] subtly exposes an emerging bardic and ironic voice . . . [and] extends the reach of Frost’s poetic genius.”

–American Literature

“Frost is the subject of Karen Kilcup’s important study of the poet’s debt to feminine literary traditions. Robert Frost and the Feminine Literary Tradition is in part a much-needed reply to Katherine Kearns’s feminist reading of Frost in Robert Frost and a Poetics of Appetite. . . . comprehensive.”

American Literary Scholarship, 1998

“Of those books that have been written about the poet in the last ten years, [Kilcup’s] is one of the very best, as it deals squarely with the issues that are most important if we are to understand Frost and his work in full cultural context. . . . Her critical reorientation provides valuable insights not only into Frost and his relation to literary modes of the nineteenth century but also into the political effects of sentimentalism, regionalism, and modernism. . . . Kilcup’s careful plotting of Frost’s career and his changes throughout the book is a much-needed remedy to the tendency to treat Frost as if he did not pay attention to changing circumstances–especially as those circumstances relate to his canonical standing.”

South Atlantic Review

“[Kilcup] resists reductionism of the term [sentimental] so that she may look in more complex ways at the question of emotion in poetry. . . . She is willing to meet head-on the objections of many to sentimental poetry that might be called ‘bad’ in order to show how Frost could use certain elements of it.”

American Literary Scholarship

“Kilcup demonstrates a remarkably thorough understanding of issues raised by feminist critics over the past few decades. . . . Fascinating and convincing.”

–Jay Parini, Middlebury College

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