History and Women, Culture and Faith: Selected Writings of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

By Smith, John David | The Journal of Southern History, August 2014 | Go to article overview

History and Women, Culture and Faith: Selected Writings of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese


Smith, John David, The Journal of Southern History


History and Women, Culture and Faith: Selected Writings of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. Edited by David Moltke-Hansen. Volume 1: Women Past and Present, edited by Deborah A. Symonds; Volume 2: Ghosts and Memories: White and Black Southern Women's Lives and Writings, edited by Kibibi Mack-Shelton and Christina Bieber Lake; Volume 3: Intersections: History, Culture, Ideology, edited by David Moltke-Hansen; Volume 4: Explorations and Commitments: Religion, Faith, and Culture, edited by Ann Hartle and Sheila O'Connor-Ambrose; Volume 5: Unbought Grace: An Elizabeth Fox-Genovese Reader, edited by Rebecca Fox and Robert L. Paquette. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2011, 2011, 2011, 2012, 2012. Pp. [xl], 309; [xxx], 298; [xxxvi], 294; [xxxvi], 314; [xx], 308. $29.95 each, ISBN 978-1-57003-990-4; 978-1-57003-991-1; 978-1-57003-992-8; 978-1-57003-993-5; 978-1-57003-994-2. Five-volume set, $112.00.)

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, who died in 2007, taught at the University of Rochester, the State University of New York, Binghamton, and Emory University and ranked as one of America's most controversial historians and women's studies scholars. In the New York Times, Margalit Fox has written that Fox-Genovese "roiled both disciplines with her transition from Marxist-inclined feminist to conservative public intellectual" ("Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Historian, Is Dead at 65," New York Times, January 7, 2007, p. 27). Recently historian Deborah A. Symonds has described Fox-Genovese as "a polymath scholar working in French, southern U.S., women's, intellectual, and cultural history, literary criticism, and religion" ("Growing Up Betsey," Journal of the Historical Society, 13 [June 2013], 177-94 [quotation on 194]). David Moltke-Hansen characterizes Fox-Genovese as a "formidable figure in the evolution of feminism, a high-profile warrior in the culture wars, and an astute and penetrating reader of women's history and texts. Her life may also become a cautionary tale about the cost of apostasy on the left" ("From Edinburgh to Rome: Society and Social Justice in the Thought and Life of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese," Journal of the Historical Society, 13 [June 2013], 163-75 [quotation on 175]).

Moltke-Hansen, general editor of the superbly edited and produced five-volume History and Women, Culture and Faith: Selected Writings of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, refers to several levels of what historians on the left consider Fox-Genovese's "apostasy"--her critiques of feminism, multiculturalism, and postmodernism and her widely publicized conversion to Roman Catholicism and condemnation of abortion. Fox-Genovese followed publication of Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism (Chapel Hill, 1991), a work that criticized the women's movement for inordinately reflecting the perspective of the white middle class, with "Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life": How Today's Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch with the Real Concerns of Women (New York, 1996). Comparing the two books, Mary Gordon observes the dramatic change in Fox-Genovese's argument: "When we last left Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, at the end of 'Feminism Without Illusions,' she was deploring people who 'find it easy to blame feminism for some of the most disturbing aspects of modern life: divorce, latchkey children, teen-age alcoholism, domestic violence, the sexual abuse of children.' Five years later, it seems she has become one of the people she warned us about. It seems she's had a conversion experience" ("What Makes a Woman a Woman?" New York Times Book Review, January 14, 1996, p. 9).

Fox-Genovese also shifted her focus as a historian. Bom in 1941, she attended Bryn Mawr College and earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1974, specializing in eighteenth-century French history. Her published dissertation, The Origins of Physiocracy: Economic Revolution and Social Order in Eighteenth-Century France (Cornell University Press), appeared in 1976, but she soon redirected her research to southern history, publishing (with Eugene D. …

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