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Reno, Itti Kinney

RENO, Itti Kinney

Born 17 May 1862, Nashville, Tennessee; died death date unknown

Also wrote under: "A Nashville Pen"

Daughter of Colonel George S. Kinney; married Robert R.Reno, 1885

Described in a biographical reference as a "high-strung, imaginative child, remarkably bright and precocious," Itti Kinney Reno was known as a novelist and social leader, "marked by the brilliance that wealth and social influence confer."

Reno attended a convent in Kentucky, later marrying after a successful social debut. Reno began writing "for amusement," and through family connections published Miss Breckenridge: A Daughter of Dixie in 1890. In this novel, Reno seems determined to show the extent of her learning and good breeding; she "namedrops," citing authors even when they are irrelevant to the narrative. Complete with a sympathetic "Mammy" whose dialogue is conveyed in dialect, the novel is a wholly conventional tale of a Southern belle (of great athletic skill and personal charm) torn between two lovers. The story is predictably simple: In one episode, the heroine Cleo lapses into hysteria when the man she loves is called away to his ill mother; in another, "an unknown woman" arrives to tell Cleo her lover has fathered a child. The expected complications, of course, are resolved through the noble efforts of the rejected suitor, and Cleo is reunited with her love.

An Exceptional Case (1891) is more than a narrative of conventional southern manners. It begins within the idiom of social-romantic banter, as "lips silenced their music in the lover's smile that came to him at the sight of the beautiful girl," and Reno's name-dropping continues. Yet while she stresses "that nameless charm…the signet that Refinement gives to the children of Birth and Breeding," the novel marks an early attempt at feminism.

"Surely you are not so unprogressive to think woman's career limited to the needle and the nursery?" asks Miss Hampton, an aspiring painter, of her admirer. Although the novel is uneven, marred by emotional traumas unrelated to Reno's purpose, the heroine does realize, after her marriage has settled into sameness, that she is indeed culturally and intellectually starved. The novel ends with a compromise: She will stay with her husband (who had earlier forbidden her interest in art), but her days will be devoted to painting, his to his business—and their evenings to each other. Considering the expectations of Reno's social class, the modern solution for her heroine's predicament is quite admirable.

Reno's novels are conventional and unremarkable, adhering to the directives of social manner and breeding. But An Exceptional Case is precisely that for its faint glimmer of feminism, especially in light of the highly structured milieu in which it was written.

Bibliography:

Reference works:

AW (1904).

—DEBORAH H. HOLDSTEIN

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