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

By Nicole Tonkovich | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
PATRONYMICS, PROPERTY, AND PROPER NAMING

In July 1856 "James Parton and Sarah P. Parton, his wife" brought suit against William Fleming to halt him from "printing, publishing and circulating a 'Cook Book' purporting to be prepared and published by ' Fanny Fern.'" To the court "Mrs. Parton allege[d] that she is the ' Fanny Fern;' that all her writings are published under that name, and that she has acquired a special and the only right to use it;...that the [Cook Book's] preface is an attempted imitation of her style; that it is ungrammatical, vulgar, and somewhat obscene; and that the said 'Cook Book' will injure the character of the complainant, ( Mrs. Parton,) will lessen the value of her tide, (' Fanny Fern,') and will inflict great pecuniary loss upon her" ( Ledger 2 Aug. 1856). At issue in this suit was not only Fern's right to own the name under which she had published much of her work but also the temporal, textual, and subjective mobility entailed in any name. Fern's suit, brought under the name of her third husband, established that regardless of how many versions of Fanny Fern people believed they had identified, those versions always were to be unified by the implicit link to one woman's body. Yet that body need not necessarily bear the "title" under dispute in the lawsuit. The multiplicity of names and titles at play in this suit suggests one of the strategies used by Fern and other writing women to maintain a uniformity of textual character (as "True Women"), to exploit a variety of personae (whereby they often exceeded the bounds of "True Womanhood"), and to retain legal right to their written work.

The court's decision, which established the legal connection of the "complainant's" name, title, body, and intellectual progeny/property, was necessary because of the inherently arbitrary and unstable connection of

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