Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

Synopsis

As the American literary canon has undergone revision and expansion in recent years, the influence of women writers of the nineteenth century has been reevaluated. The first book of its kind, this reference provides alphabetically arranged entries for more than 70 nineteenth-century American women writers, such as Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Emma Lazarus, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Each entry is written by an expert contributor and includes a biography, a discussion of the author's major works and themes, an overview of the critical studies examining the writer's works, and a bibliography of works for further consultation.

Excerpt

Back in 1984, when I was a graduate student at the State University of New York at Albany, I enrolled in a course titled "American Literature, 1815-1865." The reading list from that course is still in my files; it is a crude and archaic reminder of how women writers and writers of color were relegated to the margins of American literature or forgotten altogether. Once the domain of a handful of so-called literary giants--Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman--the content and texture of our American literature anthologies have shifted dramatically in recent years. That now-passé course outline stands as evidence of how the landscape of American literature has changed; there were no writers of color taught in that graduate course, and the only woman writer included was Emily Dickinson, who was summarily discarded when the instructor had to cancel a class.

I remember not liking very much of what I was reading then. Emerson, on whom we dwelled for three long weeks, penned abstract and lofty philosophical essays; Poe's fiction emphasized the spirit of perversity and other dark themes; Hawthorne's stories examined and reexamined the themes of sin and redemption; there were no women characters to enliven Melville's tedious tales. Only Thoreau and Whitman captured my imagination; Dickinson I would have undoubtedly enjoyed, had she not been casually scratched from the syllabus. The canonical reconfiguration that has ensued since then has been remarkable, both in terms of the speed by which it is being effected and by the volume of long- forgotten literature that is being retrieved.

The pioneering work of revisionist critic Paul Lauter has changed forever the way we view nineteenth-century American literary history. No longer the sole domain of the chosen few, the canon has been revised and expanded to be far more inclusive than it was during my graduate school days. As Lauter notes in . . .

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