Tropes of Temperance, Specters of Naturalism: Amelia E. Johnson’s Clarence and Corinne
The article investigates the intersection of temperance discourse and emergent naturalist aesthetics in Amelia E. Johnson’s Clarence and Corinne (1890). Just as many novels published in the Black Woman’s Era at the turn of the twentieth century, it parallels the tradition of white woman’s fiction as defined by Nina Baym and the sentimental tradition as discussed by Jane Tompkins. In my analysis, I will show how Johnson’s imagery resonates with both the drunkard narrative and seminal works of American naturalism, such Stephen Crane’s Maggie (1893) and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900), and how Clarence and Corinne exemplifies salient—though rarely examined—interconnections between temperance discourse and naturalist aesthetics. Her appropriation and revision of hegemonic ideologies and fiction formats enables her to not only to engage in a critical dialogue with Victorian gender politics and the capitalist economy but also to relate to issues of specific relevance for the contemporary African American community, such as the rise of the retrogressionist discourse of black bestiality, post-Reconstruction failure of a free labor economy, and interracial patronage politics.
Keywords: temperance; reform movements; Amelia E. Johnson; Black Woman’s Era; American naturalism
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