This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
Factory girl literature is a unique and essential component of the cultures of industrialization. First emerging in 19th century Euro-American industrial literature, from the early 20th century the form has been dominated by authors writing from Asia. Throughout the 20th century, the significant role that factory girl literature played as a critique of rapid industrialization was reinforced by the authority of realist literary fiction in high culture. But factory girl literature contains within itself multiple tensions, one of which is the distinction between literature authored by factory girls themselves and fiction written by “tourists” to the working class, famous examples of whom are Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Bronte. Part of the power of early “tourist” factory girl literature was its capacity to represent the mute, illiterate subject of the young working woman in ways that reinforced the authority of literature and its constituent hierarchies of education and cultural authority. By contrast, factory girl authors, such as Korea’s Shin Kyung-sook, express an ambivalent relationship to literature and detail their painful relationship to structures of education and learning, the “map of prestige” as Elene Ferrante puts it. Factory girl literature thus highlights a crucial tension within realist literary fiction as it uncovers the strains between high culture and the degraded subject.
The creative writing of landscape and environment is riding high on the research agendas of a number of scholarly fields. In literary studies, ecocriticism has seen attempts to map a set of characteristics that constitute an environmentally oriented text, often with the result that nonfiction writing (or, less often, poetry) is the form prioritized. By contrast, fiction has been seen as less capable of embracing landscape and environment because it is concerned first and foremost with human affairs and has taken the narrative shapes that typically accompany this emphasis. However, the postwar and contemporary period has seen extensive formal experimentation running counter to this set of assumptions. First, novelists concerned with landscape and environment have found ways to demonstrate the implication of human history in natural history. Second, nonfiction writers have recognized that they might profitably deploy literary forms and techniques usually associated with fiction in their writing of landscape and environment. The upshot has been a generic coalescence and the emergence of landscape writing as a category that straddles habitual divisions in the way that literary forms are conceived. The plasticity of the environment—for better or worse—has registered in urban and rural settings, as well as those that fall somewhere between this (perhaps outmoded) binary. The increasingly unavoidable knowledge of the consequences of human actions upon the environment form an important context for the falling away of older forms such as the nature novel and act as a spur to re-conceptualize both places and ways to write about them.