Date of Award

December 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Kristie Hamilton

Committee Members

Barrett Kalter, Peter Sands, Joe Austin


book history, free love, material cultural studies, utopian studies


This dissertation investigates the coevolution of industrial book formats in the 19th century and women’s critique of marriage in fiction, arguing that the highly decorated case binding both reflected and shaped broader cultural anxieties engendered by the accessibility of new literary forms to mass audiences and the impact of that literature on the cultural logics by which women understood their roles and options. Given the reciprocal relationship between the mechanisms of industrial print and women’s writing, the material conditions of book production are important considerations for the literary scholar. The four novels examined in this dissertation—Fanny Fern’s Rose Clark, Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Lizzie Holmes’s Hagar Lyndon, and Rosa Graul’s Hilda’s Home—are not merely examples of the intersection of material textuality and literary studies, they are critical interventions in women’s struggle over the 19th century for sexual and reproductive autonomy. Fern in Rose Clark explicitly links the capacity of the industrial steam presses to the production of fraudulent narratives about women and presents a radically revised heroine in Gertrude Dean, a woman who can navigate the world of print and envision alternatives to marriage. Jacobs makes clear in Incidents and the actions she took to bring it to print that the legal and ideological system of American slavery denied her ownership of both self and story, an ownership she reclaimed by writing her story and purchasing the material text in the form of its stereotype plates. The Free Love writes Rosa Graul and Lizzie Holmes serialized their novels in Moses Harmon’s anarchist newspaper, Lucifer the Light Bearer, where the Free Love community’s open exchange of ideas gave rise to the women’s free love novel, an early and unacknowledged example of the process utopia that called explicitly for women’s sexual autonomy and the abolition of marriage.