The Life and Works of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Victorian Feminist Writer

The Life and Works of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Victorian Feminist Writer

The Life and Works of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Victorian Feminist Writer

The Life and Works of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Victorian Feminist Writer

Synopsis

Kelly's book offers the first comprehensive study of the role of feminism in Phelps' life and work. It explores feminist elements in her religious works and magazine articles, the depiction of women in her novels and short stories, her views about women and marriage, and her place in American literature.

Excerpt

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911) is best known for her enormously popular book on the afterlife, The Gates Ajar (1868). Less well known is her persistent effort, as a writer of books for women, to correct the prevailing stereotype of them as clinging and helpless or as completely fulfilled and happy in their supposedly "natural" spheres of home and children.

In her widely read fiction, Phelps challenged the notion that a woman's place was in the home. Her books provided potential role models for hundreds of female readers by depicting women as succeeding in traditionally male-dominated professions, such as business, medicine, and the ministry. Her numerous stories about married life also constitute a radical departure from most of the literature on this subject in this period. Unlike most of the popular female writers of the time who celebrated the domestic virtues and dwelt on the joys and satisfactions of domestic life, Phelps detailed the frustrations and difficulties often found in the married state, putting particular emphasis on the toll marriage could exact on a woman's personal growth and happiness. Throughout her long career, Phelps also wrote scores of articles on women's rights for the Independent and other magazines. Her nonfiction articles deal with a variety of women's questions, including women and work, women and dress, women and money, and women and religion, and they are a clear call to arms for a generation of women who had been raised to think that their place was limited, by virtue of their genders, to Kirche, Küche, und Kinder. Phelps' views of women are all the more remarkable in that she herself was the product of a very traditional Victorian household where both parents defended the orthodox view that woman's primary obligations were to her duties in the domestic sphere.

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