Writing the House, Writing Change: Architecture in Interwar American Literature

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Tine Sommer


Postdoctoral Fellow


University of Washington


DKK 1,390,000




Reintegration Fellowships


My research studies American novels that were widely read by a general public in the years between the two world wars. This period was marked by extensive changes in society brought on by war, economic depression, new technologies and many other events. The project asks how such changes impacted daily life, especially as it took place in the home. Theories form human geography and architecture have established that houses affect us in powerful ways that shape how we understand and respond to the world we live in. Therefore, this project specifically explores literary narratives of everyday life in the house.


This project will provide new knowledge of how people respond to larger changes, and how the house might ease or sustain the fear, depression, and other emotions caused by major societal change. While previous research has studied how modernist literature and architecture responded to changes of the interwar years, my research fills a gap as it focuses on underexplored mundane forms of literature and architecture that existed in parallel to modernist culture. While everyday cultural artefacts might not be especially aesthetically beautiful or radical, they are important to study if we wish to understand more fully what a specific historical situation felt like for the general public. The new knowledge gained from this research can also be used in a broader sense to understand other situations where significant change impacts daily life and the use and meaning of the house, such as our own present marked by a pandemic, war in Europe, and energy and environmental issues.


This project analyzes fictional narratives about everyday life from the period 1920-1950 informed by cultural and architectural history as well as theories about how buildings affect us. The literature it focuses on are both well-known and overlooked texts that are realistic in their plots, engaging with the period in which they were published. Scholars have called this “middlebrow” literature and argued that this genre is especially suited for exploring middle-class, mainly white, attitudes to the changes of modernity. I also claim that literature is especially suitable for exploring everyday life in the house because it preserves a specific historical and social situation that is otherwise hard to recreate.

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