Sarah Josepha Hale and Fanny Fern
In her "Literary Notices" column of Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine for February 1855, Sarah Josepha Hale noted the publication of Fanny Fern Ruth Hall. A Domestic Tale of the Present Times. By that time Ruth had been extensively promoted by its publishers, who had claimed that the book was in its third edition only four days after its initial appearance ( Geary388). Hale, who had herself profited from such publicity only three years earlier, was a reviewer whose notices of books she liked were glowing and lengthy. She gave Ruth Hall only two sentences: "As a writer, the author of this volume has been very successful and very popular. Her success and popularity may be increased by this 'domestic tale;' but, as we never interfere in family affairs, we must leave readers to judge for themselves" (50: 176).
Hale's dismissal of Fern's novel is certainly not surprising, since Godey's public reputation dictated that it promote only novels suitable for ladies' and family reading. Ruth was a racy novel. The book was already notorious as an autobiographical exposé of strained family relations between two of the popular press's star columnists. In the novel, it was reported, Fanny Fern, a popular writer for the True Flag, the Olive Branch, and the Musical World and Times, had effectively accused her brother N.P. Willis, one of New York's leading editors, of refusing to aid her financially after her husband's death. Hence Hale's punningly dismissive phrase "we never interfere in family affairs" refers both to the book's subtitle and to the public controversy then raging around the book.
Hale's review seems to suggest a great difference between these two women. As the oldest woman and the youngest woman treated here, they represent two generations of writing women. Hale, one of the first women