Award Date

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

John Hay

Second Committee Member

Melissa Carrion

Third Committee Member

Gary Totten

Fourth Committee Member

Emma Bloomfield

Number of Pages



This project shows that literary genrefication is a simultaneous gendering with the author’s gender affecting their text’s genrefication. As evidence for this claim, this research focuses on five American women authors of the long nineteenth century whose texts were bestsellers at publication yet have since been marginalized. The principal authors of this project are Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887), Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), Rebecca Harding Davis (1831-1910), and Ida B. Wells (1862-1931). Thinking that these authors’ texts are outdated and irrelevant to modern exigencies is naïve, yet their texts’ gendered genrefications send a message of easy dismissal.These authors experienced a duplicity of positionality, or the double-bind common to female rhetors. They tailored their rhetoric according to cultural expectations and male authorial standards while subverting these same proscriptions. Using Robin Tomach Lakoff’s sociolinguistic observations of women’s speech, this project identifies sexist linguistic patterns integral to literary interpretations and rhetorical analysis that “weave our social fabric” (Lakoff 2000) or achieve the “social action” theorized by Carolyn Miller (1984). Using the work of theorists of rhetoric and communication studies, this project is an intervention in a critical conversation among scholars of nineteenth-century American literature. It aims not only to recover and reinstate marginalized authors and their texts, but also to re-value their work as meaningful to modern audiences through a reinscribing of rhetorical purpose specifically by attending to irony in and surrounding the texts. Tarez Samra Graban’s argument “for irony as a critical feminist paradigm” is a cornerstone which may offer a new scale for valuing nineteenth-century women’s rhetoric. Because readers are agents in constituting genre and society, dismissed texts are made relevant when the rhetor’s irony is received since irony unveils a rhetor’s macro speech act, or her ultimate rhetorical purpose—something with which modern audiences might resonate. This irony, moreover, has a legacy effect aimed to incite significant social action that influenced history and may influence modern society. Ultimately, this project extends understandings of genre and its implications for social action, potentially continuing the important social reform efforts these rhetors worked to achieve.


Eliza R. Snow; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Irony; Margaret Fuller; Rebecca Harding Davis; Rhetoric


Arts and Humanities | Gender and Sexuality | Rhetoric and Composition | Women's Studies

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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