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This dissertation argues that the rhetoric of the transatlantic birth control movement has roots in the aesthetics of literary modernism. Not only did Anglo-American modernism and the birth control movement come of age at the same moment and in many of the same cities (particularly London and New York); the politics of birth control often attracted the interest of modernist artists, and many birth control activists moved in literary circles. The small but growing body of scholarship acknowledging the intersection of these movements typically treats them as parallel rather than mutually influencing developments. This is an oversight of no small magnitude because we can arrive at a better understanding of the stakes of current birth control debates if we uncover the various discursive traces in the movement's rhetoric. My project begins to fill this gap in our scholarship by showing that modernism's concerns and experiments exerted a lasting influence on the birth control movement's narrative constructions around race, gender, religion, and the body. Using under-studied primary sources - such as Margaret Sanger's Birth Control Review - as well as more traditionally-recognized modernist texts, I treat many of these narrative constructions, from Sanger's depiction of the gothic body in perpetual generation to forms of artistic generation that compete with the physical birthing body in Virginia Woolf's Orlando. The flow of influence was not, of course, one-directional; the birth control movement also had a profound impact on Anglo-American writers. This dissertation recovers the role of birth control in the development of some of modernism's most innovative aesthetic concepts by demonstrating that the presence of birth control in writers' lives as well as in the lives of their characters brings about a modernist subjectivity. By reading the beginnings of the birth control movement against modernism, I situate this literary movement within larger conversations about reproductive technologies, subjectivity, and civil rights.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of English in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Robin Truth Goodman, Professor Directing Dissertation; Aline Kalbian, University Representative; Andrew Epstein, Committee Member; Barry J. Faulk, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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