Studies in Newspaper and Periodical History: 1995 Annual

By Michael Harris ; Tom O'Malley | Go to book overview

his overt and unconscionable acts, Margery, omitted and storyless, is dangerous and inhuman due to the very absence of her narrative from the popular imagination.

The male authorities charged with containing this lurking peril on the margin of their town clearly lack the knowledge necessary to interpret and represent her. These pious men, pillars of their community, are so illiterate when it comes to women's stories that they misread the very text that authorizes them: They mistake the utterance of prayer for evil incantations. It is the woman writer of the contribution who can reveal Margery's true character and narrate her circumstances. As she exposes the inadequacies of the cultural authorities who license themselves to contain by interpreting Margery, the contributor also subtly instructs her readers in the significant art of reading and writing -- of public self-representation -- as a woman. As a tale told by a woman to be read by women, Margery's life story becomes not only visible, but comprehensible and, by ascendent cultural standards, exemplary. Deserted by a recreant lover and cruelly outcast by a community that ought to have embraced and protected her, Margery Bethel chose not to "rave" nor plead desperately for help; neither was she ruined and defeated, becoming "cross" and "taciturn," as many a male author would have her do. Instead, Margery Bethel can be seen as the heroine of an emergent woman's plotline: hers is the story of an autonomous lady who leads a benevolent, pious life of her own. 12


WANTING WOMEN'S WORDS: THE APPEARANCE OF A NEW GENRE FOR A NEW AND DEMOCRATIC NATION

Using the democratic openness and audience participation of the early American women's magazine, contributors explored strategies of self-representation amidst and against the silencing idioms of male authority and authorship. By revealing previously invisible angles, writing new subject positions and collaborating in the creation and critique of gender discourse, communities of women's magazine readers and writers began to envision new cultural positions and elaborate new stories for themselves. As women's magazine contributors began to write "Woman" from a position of dutiful silence into a discourse of virtuous presence moving into the nineteenth century, women began to constitute themselves as a distinct public in American life and letters.


NOTES
1
Kenneth Cmeil writes that despite new "democratized" standards of speech, women's voices, if heard, "were viewed not so much as uppity women claiming equality, but as the wives and daughters of offending men." See

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