Rebecca Harding Davis and the Failed Genteel Father

Andrew Lawson

in Downwardly Mobile

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199828050
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933334 | DOI:
Rebecca Harding Davis and the Failed Genteel Father

Show Summary Details


This chapter describes the family history of Rebecca Harding Davis as a combination of residual gentility and relative deprivation. It shows how the failure of Davis’s father, Richard Harding, to succeed as an insurance broker in Wheeling, Virginia, meant that the gentry-class origins of her mother, Rachel Leet Wilson were gradually effaced. Davis’s contradictory class identity results, in “Life in the Iron Mills” (1861), in her narrator identifying with both the cultivated Southern gentleman, Mitchell, and the dependent, working-class woman, Deborah. The chapter argues that the only consistently held position in the story is that putatively free white labour is actually equivalent to chattel slavery. In a fantasy resolution to the contradictions of her class identity, Davis affirms race as the only stable and enduring marker of identity.

Keywords: dependency; identification; abjection; virginia; proslavery

Chapter.  10548 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.