Date of Award
Eric Gould, Ph.D.
Enchantment, Mary Austin, New Mexico, Santa Fe, Starry Adventure, Taos
This thesis examines 20th century American writer Mary Austin's last novel, Starry Adventure (1931), a work unjustly ignored by most Austin scholars, yet touted by the photographer Ansel Adams (in a letter to Austin) as "the greatest thing I have ever read." This thesis will be particularly concerned with the concept of vision in the novel and the connections between Austin's fiction and the New Mexican modernism/primitivism movement in the visual arts. I explore what I call Austin's "optic of enchantment," a visual experience of divinity that is uniquely tied to the New Mexican landscape. I break down this optic of enchantment into three distinct and definitive facets: First - a visual understanding of the landscape which is directly informed by the then-contemporary movements of visual artists in Taos and Santa Fe, and more widely, in New York and Europe. Second, I discuss how the visual experience of the landscape is derived from a primitivist sense of indigenous experience: Indian artistic culture and its deep, non-lingual understanding of the land, and the ritual and mysticism of Penitente and chicano culture. Finally, I complicate literary studies of Austin with theories of modern visual culture, relying on the work of visual studies critics and modernist art historians to illustrate how American vision was changing at the turn of the 20th century, and how the Southwestern landscape played a role in determining national concepts of modernity and modernism in art, letters and beyond.
Mann, Olivia Jayne, "Seeing the God of New Mexico: Mary Austin's Starry Adventure and the Optic of Enchantment" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1379.
Received from ProQuest
Olivia Jayne Mann
English literature, Art history