Book Cover

On Edge

Gender and Genre in the Work of Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, and Leigh Brackett

Ashley Lawson

226 pp. 6 x 9
EXPECTED Pub Date: September, 2024

Subjects: Literary Studies, American
Literary Theory

Preorder Hardcover $59.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-1574-6

“Lawson compellingly reassesses the importance of ‘low’ literary forms such as woman-authored gothic, suspense, and science fiction, arguing for gender as its own meaningful genre and illustrating the ways that these authors answered serious intellectual questions—and leave a memorable literary legacy.” —Jacqueline Foertsch, author of Freedom’s Ring: Literatures of Liberation from Civil Rights to the Second Wave

On Edge is exactly what scholarship should be. Lawson convincingly unpacks the biases of gender and genre at midcentury and proves that Jackson, Highsmith, and Brackett experimented with, and at times subversively transformed, popular genres. She reveals to readers the undercurrent of feminist concerns in genres more often remembered for the stifling of such concerns.” —Margaret Reid, author of Cultural Secrets as Narrative Form: Storytelling in Nineteenth-Century America

Ashley Lawson’s On Edge presents a new picture of postwar American literature, arguing that biases against genre fiction have unfairly disadvantaged the legacies of authors like Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, and Leigh Brackett. Each of these authors deftly navigated a male-dominated postwar publishing world without compromising their values. Their category-defying treatment of both gender roles and genre classifications created a thematic suspense in their work that spoke to the tension of an age saturated with nervousness stemming from quotidian fears and from the prospect of nuclear annihilation. Lawson engages with foundational voices in American literature, genre theory, and feminism to argue that, by merging the dominant mode of literary realism with fantastical or heightened elements, Brackett, Jackson, and Highsmith were able to respond to the big questions of their era with startling and unnerving answers that perfectly illustrate the feelings of suspense that defined the “Age of Anxiety.” By elevating genre play to a marker of literary skill, Lawson contends, we can secure for these writers a more prominent place within the canon of midcentury American literature, as well as open the door for the recovery of their similarly innovative peers.

Ashley Lawson is Associate Professor of English at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Her research centers on twentieth-century American literature and women’s creativity. She has published essays on Zelda Fitzgerald, Dawn Powell, Shirley Jackson, Sara Haardt, and Estelle Faulkner. In addition to these specialties, her teaching interests include Iranian and Japanese women writers, femmes fatales, and the American gothic.




Chapter 1        Gender and Genre: Breaking Boundaries

Chapter 2        Leigh Brackett’s Genre-Perfect/Genre-Bending Crime Fiction

Chapter 3        Conflicted Perspectives in Jackson’s and Highsmith’s Crime Fiction

Chapter 4        The Alien among Us: Expanding Reality in Speculative Fiction

Chapter 5        Gothic Subjectivity in Jackson and Highsmith

Chapter 6        Dystopian Visions of Community in Pre- and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Chapter 7        Housebound: Domestic Realism and Women’s Magazines


Works Cited

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