The Last Cleric: Ann Douglas, Intellectual Authority, and the Legacy of Feminization
This article revisits Ann Douglas’s classic work The Feminization of American Culture in order to assess its model of intellectual authority. Rather than offering a new close reading or critique of its claims about sentimentalism, we instead contend that the argumentative focus of Feminization is concerned primarily with the changing status of the public intellectual. Situating the book within its 1970s context, when female professors were extremely rare and institutional sexism extremely high, we examine how and why Douglas chose to speak as she did throughout the book. Her style--with its assertive tone, sweeping generalizations, and emphatic pronouncements--reflects this context, and it expresses how Douglas views her role as an intellectual and literary critic. Moreover, the style attempts to reach beyond scholarly peers in order to influence a broad, non-academic audience. In considering issues of context, presentation, style, readership, audience, and the cultural pressures that shaped this book, we show that Feminization still has much to offer humanities scholars whose authority, both inside and outside the academy, remains uncertain. As a book primarily about the vital role of American intellectuals and their responsibilities to the broader public, Douglas’s Feminization raises persistent questions about how we do what we do as English professors—and whom we hope to reach in our published work.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
University of Pennsylvania Press
Pelletier, K., Stokes, C., and Van Engen, A. (2019). The last cleric: Ann Douglas, intellectual authority, and the legacy of Feminization. J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, 7(1), 185-208. doi: 10.1353/jnc.2019.0007
J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists