This essay reads Stein and Cather's early autobiographical fictions as part of a complex negotiation of the gendered divide between the professionalizing sciences and the feminized field of “nature work.” Intrigued yet unsatisfied by scientific accounts of human consciousness as biological process, and wary of entanglement in popular associations of women's nature work with maternal sentiment and feminine virtue, Stein and Cather sought to modernize their “feel for mother earth” by rewriting it in unsentimental and authoritatively modern terms. To that end, both writers adapted notions of rhythm and kinaesthetic performance that originated in the new sciences of psychology and anthropology and were popularized by artists and intellectuals such as Isadora Duncan and Mary Austin. Using Duncan and the opera singer Olive Fremstad as models, Stein and Cather developed rhythmic conceptions of artistic production that sought to reconcile the modern scientific view of human interiority with a modernist celebration of human creative agency, and at the same time to distance themselves from women's nature work while continuing the nature worker's task of drawing attention to the vital continuity between human and nonhuman nature. Read in this light, their work reveals a shared and gendered ambivalence about science and nature that in many ways anticipates our own.
Anne Raine; Science, Nature Work, and the Kinaesthetic Body in Cather and Stein. American Literature 1 December 2008; 80 (4): 799–830. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2008-039
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