The History of Southern Women's Literature

Article excerpt

The History of Southern Women's Literature. Edited by Carolyn Perry and Mary Louise Weaks. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. 744 pp. $49.95.

As Carolyn Perry and Mary Louise Weaks varyingly point out in their introductions to the four chronologically arranged sections that comprise The History of Southern Women 's Literature, despite frequent scholarly acknowledgment of broad connections, the specific details of Southern women writers' contributions to America's literary and cultural traditions remain largely unexplored. Most of the essays in this reader-friendly collection thus understandably aim at highlighting and unpacking the network of Southern women writers' cultural relationships as evidenced by their aesthetic politics. Not surprisingly, issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, typically associated with Southern mythic discourses of womanhood, machismo, and geography, crop up in a majority of the essays. But what is refreshing about The History of Southern Women 's Literature is the range of perspectives it brings to bear on these seasoned themes. The contributors' readings and re-readings of these discourses from a multiplicity of angles suggest, in other words, the great resourcefulness and dimension of Southern women writers' inventiveness and interventionism.

As this collection so amply and diversely demonstrates, Southern women writers have historically contributed to the shaping of the modern American literary tradition; they have also largely set the tone for the subversive energies characterizing the tradition and its criticism in a postmodern context. Indeed, Mary D. Robertson's analysis of antebellum Southern women writers' intense engagement with social and historical reality in their letters and journals, pivotally moves away from the characteristic biographical readings of these works, placing them in context and underscoring their value as cultural artifacts. …