The Country Book
The Country Book
Masculinity, Domesticity, and the Rise of American Suburbs
Picturesque aesthetics and an increased focus on men’s domestic life shaped the rapid growth of the suburbs in the mid-nineteenth century, one of the most consequential reconfigurations of American understandings of national space. This suburban development had its own popular literary genre in the period, the country book. Although the country book is now largely forgotten and many of its more prominent examples have lapsed into obscurity, canonical writers such as Herman Melville wrote in the genre, and Thoreau’s Walden can also be understood in the context of this genre. The country book’s vision of the suburbs as a site of picturesque male domesticity that allowed for both privacy and homosocial intimacy countered a dominant vision of urban masculinity as public, individualistic, and competitive. Although the country book in general offers an idealized vision of male suburban life, individual texts also often feature deferrals, debility, and even death that threaten both male privacy and intimacy. The country book promoted the imaginative investments in suburban development at the same time that it hinted at the contradictions at the heart of middle-class masculine identity that foreclosed on that dream. In this way, as with the park movement texts discussed in Chapter 3, the country books that supported mid-nineteenth-century suburban development expressed both the social aspirations and fears of bourgeois men.
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