Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature

By Kathy J. Whitson | Go to book overview

D

DAVIS, REBECCA HARDING

Rescued from a century of critical neglect by the twentieth-century working-class feminist writer Tillie Olsen, Rebecca Harding Davis is recognized today as an important literary precursor to late nineteenth-century American naturalists, such as Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser, and to twentieth-century feminists like Olsen. Her reputation rests primarily on Life in the Iron Mills (1861), a novella that unflinchingly chronicles the harsh life of mill workers under industrial capitalism. Born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in 1831, the eldest of five children of Richard W. Harding and Rachel Leet Wilson Harding, Rebecca Harding Davis moved with her family to Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), in 1836. This booming steel town presumably served as the setting for Life in the Iron Mills, an extraordinarily realistic portrayal of working-class men and women who lived well outside the sphere inhabited by (in Tillie Olsen's words) a “house-bound, class-bound, sex-bound” middle-class woman such as Davis herself.

Unconnected with literary circles of any kind, Davis's life changed dramatically after the acceptance of her first work by the prestigious Atlantic Monthly, which published Life in the Iron Mills anonymously in its April 1861 issue. Since the gender of the narrator was ambiguous, many assumed the novella's author was a man. The work met with instant acclaim, leading to a long-lasting friendship with Annie Fields, the wife of Atlantic editor James T. Fields, as well as briefer acquaintances with such notable literary figures as Hawthorne and Emerson. Following publication of the piece, Davis also began a correspondence with a reader-admirer, Lemuel Clarke Davis, several years her junior, whom she married in 1863. Davis moved to Philadelphia, where her husband was studying for the bar and working as a journalist.

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Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Introduction ix
  • A 1
  • References and Suggested Readings 3
  • References and Suggested Readings 7
  • References and Suggested Readings 13
  • References and Suggested Readings 17
  • References and Suggested Readings 20
  • References and Suggested Readings 24
  • B 33
  • References and Suggested Readings 35
  • References and Suggested Readings 44
  • References and Suggested Readings 48
  • C 56
  • D 72
  • References and Suggested Readings 78
  • E 80
  • F 82
  • References and Suggested Readings 91
  • References and Suggested Readings 95
  • G 96
  • References and Suggested Readings 105
  • H 106
  • References and Suggested Readings 116
  • References and Suggested Readings 123
  • I 124
  • J 125
  • K 132
  • L 140
  • References and Suggested Readings 144
  • References and Suggested Readings 146
  • M 150
  • References and Suggested Readings 176
  • N 177
  • References and Suggested Readings 186
  • O 187
  • P 193
  • References and Suggested Readings 201
  • References and Suggested Readings 205
  • R 206
  • References and Suggested Readings 207
  • References and Suggested Readings 212
  • S 213
  • References and Suggested Readings 220
  • References and Suggested Readings 221
  • References and Suggested Readings 226
  • References and Suggested Readings 232
  • References and Suggested Readings 243
  • Y 244
  • References and Suggested Readings 249
  • References and Suggested Readings 250
  • W 251
  • References and Suggested Readings 256
  • References and Suggested Readings 284
  • Y 285
  • Index 293
  • About the Author 301
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