Domesticity with a Difference: The Nonfiction of Catharine Beecher, Sarah J. Hale, Fanny Fern, and Margaret Fuller

By Nicole Tonkovich | Go to book overview

Introduction
ECCENTRIC DOMESTICITY

Writing for the New York Ledger in 1867, Fanny Fern, that newspaper's most popular columnist, declared, "[A] woman who wrote, used to be considered a sort of monster -- At this day it is difficult to find one who does not write, or has not written, or who has not, at least, a strong desire to do so. Grid-irons and darning-needles are getting monotonous. A part of their time the women of to-day are content to devote to their consideration when necessary; but you will rarely find one -- at least among women who think -- who does not silently rebel against allowing them a monopoly" ( Ledger 10 Aug. 1867). Here Fern has written a miniature history of women's literacy in the first half of the nineteenth century. She refers briefly to an era in which writing for public consumption was held to "unsex" a woman, making her into a kind of monster. Yet by 1867, Fern is able to claim a significant change in attitude toward writing women. Using overtly economic terms, she insists that domestic concerns do not monopolize the mind of a thinking woman. The very tools employed in the domestic tasks of sewing and cooking have come to suggest writing and typesetting, as well. Fern's assertion that domesticity no longer monopolizes the time of thinking women thus does not imply the overthrow of domesticity, but a different way of dividing its tasks. That t hinking women may selectively practice domesticity implies that nonthinking women attend to its daily details. In thus naming the different approach of literate women to domesticity, Fern implies a hierarchy of women, with those who think at the apex.

By entitling this book Domesticity with a Difference, I follow Fern's implication that writing women in the mid-nineteenth-century United States are not contained within a "domestic sphere," as it has conventionally

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