The Truth about True Confessions: A Confluence of Image, Word, and Agenda

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Inspired by the accustomed lack of the personal and emotional in women's journal and diary writing, I seek to discover the dominant paradigm of American, middle-class women's lives, how that paradigm has been constructed and introduced into the national narrative, and by whom. Part of a longer study, this paper uses marginalized texts and pictures from vintage confessional literature to explore what happens when women fail to articulate their own truth in what pretends to be true, confessional writing. My multi-disciplinary study concludes that someone writes it for them, inevitably confirming a binary view of the world and glamorizing violence. Hence, the "narrators" are "women written," rather than "writing women." The cautionary tales of true confessions publications join a long tradition of texts - captivity narratives, advice literature, true crime, and some fiction - that has sought to promote a particular life style, to forward a fixed representation of the world, and to control the behavior of women in general, and working class women in particular, through fear of rejection and/or violence. In addition, my paper attends to plot and character formulae, as well as to the influence of pulp publishing giants, such as Bernarr MacFadden.


Keywords: Class, Gender, Women, Ephemera, Periodical Literature
Stream: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Carla Mary Rineer

Assistant Professor, English
Women's Studies, Millersville University

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

Beginning with my PhD (Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,1999), my primary specialization is American Literature from 1492 with emphasis on gender, race, class, and religion, and marginalized genres that have only recently been acknowledged as literature. I have written extensively about the gender debate in nineteenth-century American religious periodicals; gender characterization in American religious tracts and in biblical biographies; and sexism, racism, and ethnocentrism in nineteenth-century religious compendia. Recently, I have begun a study of gender and class in “true crime” pulp magazines and broadsides, tracing their origin from Europe to colonial and early republican America, through the nineteenth-century, to the present, initially presenting my findings, “Murder, Mayhem, and Myth,” at Oxford University (March 2005). I frequently delve into philosophy and theory in investigations as varied as truth versus construction, argumentation methodology, and visual semiotics, where I apply the notions of Saussure, Pierce, Levi Strauss, and Bernays to explore how text and image work in tandem or at cross-purposes to affect reader/viewer response. My work in image began with my dissertation, Insurrection Behind the Veil: Religious Heterodoxy in Sedgwick, Child, and Stowe, which focuses on women writers, stereotypes, and the cultural messages embedded in narratives and works of non-fiction.

Ref: I08P0826