The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson

The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson

The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson

The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson


"Meticulously edited and contextualized, Dean's edition of Woolson's complete letters opens the door to an extraordinarily gifted writer's world. It offers depth to Woolson studies, but it also connects Woolson to the nineteenth-century literary marketplace in new and fascinating ways. We see Woolson the tough but astute literary critic, the precise businesswoman, and the keen cultural critic of the North, the South, and Europe. Perhaps most importantly, Woolson's letters counter many false impressions of an isolated woman. This was a life lived."--Sharon M. Harris, University of Connecticut

"Uncovers the complex, witty, cosmopolitan, imaginative Woolson, who appears more obliquely in her prose and poetry. Peopled by the famous, the infamous, and the unknown, the letters sparkle with intelligence and energy, providing insight into contemporary attitudes that Woolson sometimes shared, sometimes satirized, and sometimes defied, while they reveal an ample sensibility that anticipates today's concerns for the environment, regional and national identity, and global citizenship."--Karen L. Kilcup, author of Robert Frost and Feminine Literary Tradition

" The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson vibrate with the intelligence and sensitivity of an immensely private woman who reached out through her correspondence in search of like-minded souls. She found comrades among some of the most accomplished writers of her era as well as among men of science. Ultimately, these letters reveal the broad scope of a well-traveled life and the depth of an intensely observant artist. Every reader interested in the lives of nineteenth-century authors or women should savor every one of this extraordinary writer's letters."--Anne Boyd Rioux, president, Constance Fenimore Woolson Society

Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894) led a colorful life, travelling throughout the U.S. and Europe, becoming a literary star, whose work was published in the premier magazines of her day. She wrote critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and poetry before her mysterious and untimely death in Venice at age fifty-three.

Sharon Dean has recompiled, dated, and, in many cases, physically reassembled Woolson's extant correspondence from nearly forty sources. A trenchant critic of the customs and mores of her age, Woolson, in her letters, offers rich personal detail alongside nuanced ruminations on contemporary political and social conditions.

Sharon L. Dean is professor emerita of English at Rivier College in New Hampshire. One of the foremost experts on Constance Fenimore Woolson, her most recent publication is Constance Fenimore Woolson: Selected Stories and Travel Narratives.


As I was much separated from my sister, our letters were much … We promised each other
to be safety valves and also promised each other to destroy letters as soon as answered.
Therefore, when she was taken, I was the only person who had no letters. How I missed her
clear, strong, interesting letters! … and my kind of letter amused her; she said I told her
things that no one else told her. Oh, that awful silence!

Clara Benedict to Miss May Harris (Benedict/CFW, 387)

Constance Fenimore Woolson’s letters, gathered for the first time in The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson, remove Woolson not only from the “awful silence” that her sister Clara Benedict wrote of in her letter to May Harris, but also from the shadow of Henry James, with whom many scholars have associated her to the exclusion of the array of people, places, and ideas that shaped her large and varied life. Using this edition, scholars can now explore what David Barton and Nigel Hall have called the “social practice” of letter writing. They will be able to explore her relationship to family and friends, to writers and royalty, to artists and musicians, to the rich and the less affluent, to the eccentric and the ordinary. They will be able to read her body of work against her perceptions on politics and popular culture, art and economics, medicine and the environment. and they will hear the candor of a woman who shared her deepest thoughts not only with women friends but also with men to whom she wrote with extraordinary ease.

Material developments in the nineteenth century allowed letter writing like Woolson’s to flourish. Stationery became available and affordable, and the easierto-use steel pen replaced the quill, though in Woolson’s case she often had to revert to the quill because of persistent pain in her hand, wrist, and arm. the Postal Act of 1792 created a national postal service in the United States and the Congressional Acts of 1845 and 1851 lowered the cost of stamps. in the first of her surviving letters, written in the late 1840s, the young Connie, who had received no valentines, asks an older friend if she had received any. While this may sound to the modern reader like the sad musings of a lonely girl, it should be, instead, a simple reminder that sending valentines became common only when postal rates declined. the steamship enabled Woolson and many like her to travel abroad, and the postal system enabled them to remain in contact with family and friends and with publishers to whom some sent manuscripts about their travels. As Mary Suzanne Schriber has . . .

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