Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930

Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930

Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930

Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930


Although they wrote in the same historical milieu as their male counterparts, women writers of the 19th- and early 20th-centuries have generally been "ghettoized" by critics into a separate canonical sphere. These original essays argue in favor of reconciling male and female writers, both historically and in the context of classroom teaching.

While some of the essays pair up female and male authors who write in a similar style or with similar concerns, others address social issues shared by both men and women, including class tensions, economic problems, and the Civil War experience. Rather than privileging particular genres or certain well-known writers, the contributors examine writings ranging from novels and poetry to autobiography, utopian fiction, and essays. And they consider familiar figures like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson alongside such lesser-known writers as Melusina Fay Peirce, Susie King Taylor, and Mary Gove Nichols.

Each essay revises the binary notions that have been ascribed to males and females, such as public and private, rational and intuitive, political and domestic, violent and passive. Although they do not deny the existence of separate spheres, the contributors show the boundary between them to be much more blurred than has been assumed until now.


The idea for this collection emerges from my personal odyssey in the classroom, where, over the last decade, I have tried to make sense, both for my students and for myself, of the many changing critical approaches to the relationship between canonical American male writers and their "rediscovered" American female counterparts. In the spring of 1995, I chaired a session entitled "Revitalizing the Canon: Separate Spheres No More" at the Northeast Modern Language Association Convention in Boston, based on my 1994 call for papers, "Separate Spheres No More." I was enthused by the positive response--in the form of the many good papers I received, the excellent turnout at the session itself (by male and female scholars), and the exciting discussion that followed the panel presentations. I felt connected to a community of teacher-scholars in a way I never have before, as classroom politics became more real in the light of women's history and the rewriting of women's history. And I felt less troubled as I saw other teachers grappling with similar questions in a public arena.

The kind of community I experienced at the "Separate Spheres No More" session continued with the community of writers in this volume. E-mailing must be the late-twentieth-century version of quilting. I would like to thank each contributor for participating in these conversations over the last couple of years.

Of the many guides, teachers, and mentors I encountered along the way, I would especially like to thank Donald B. Gibson, Frederick Newberry, Leland S. Person, Jr., David Leverenz, and Heyward Ehrlich for their encouragement, their support, and their confidence in my projects. Indeed, with their sensitivity to gender issues, they never made me feel stranded in a separate gender sphere.

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