Summary of “The Fiction of Bess Streeter Aldrich”


Author: Ruth J. Foreman

Degree: Doctor of Arts

Degree Year: 1982

Institute: Drake University

Dissertation Summary

Bess Streeter Aldrich, an Iowa and Nebraska writer of the early twentieth century, wrote nine novels and over 160 short stories about life in the midwest. Her fiction covers two periods: pioneer days of the last half of the nineteenth century and small town life in the early twentieth century, a period contemporary with the time she was doing the writing. The historical work was set in Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakota territory, while her contemporary fiction was localized in Nebraska. She was born in 1881 and died in 1954.

Although she did not write “women”s books,” she did have some outstanding women characters and her point of view is female. This in itself contrasts with the bulk of the midwestern literature, most of which is written by and about men. Her fiction also contrasts with much of her colleagues” work in her positive and optimistic attitude toward her characters and their lives.

There has been little analysis of Aldrich”s writing or of her contribution to American literature. This was one reason for the choice. Another reason can be attributed to the interest in midwestern literature, especially that of women, at the present time.

Procedure involved chiefly reading and study of the primary sources, since very little criticism of her work has been published. The Aldrich papers, stored in the archives of the Nebraska State Library, including letters, manuscripts, notes, and newspaper clippings, were studied thoroughly.

A pattern of romanticism and realism became apparent. Further reading and research led to the discovery of sentimentality and naturalism as well. The interplay of these four elements then became the thesis for the investigation.

Conclusions drawn from the study are that there are examples of the major literary movements in the Aldrich writing, and that they are combined to varying degrees in all of her fiction. Furthermore, Aldrich”s work has some literary merit above and beyond its historical, inspirational, and nostalgic contribution. Although none of the fiction can be classified great literature and some is sentimental popular fiction, Aldrich made a contribution to midwestern literature of the period and deserves attention.

Publisher: Thesis (D.A.)–Drake University, 1982. 

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