Duyckinck and George L. Duyckinck Cyclopaedia of American Literature praised the energy of Stephens while it criticized some of her urban stories for their excess realism and "questionable taste" ( 2:395). While nineteenth-century readers enjoyed reading Stephens's work, fastidious critics were not always sure they should.
Critical opinion through the first two thirds of the twentieth century focused either on Stephens's financial success as a professional writer or on her importance as the author of the first Beadle Dime Novel. Fred Lewis Pattee in 1940 included Stephens in his list of members of the second flowering of New England writers, alongside such popular authors as Grace Greenwood, Fanny Fern, Caroline Lee Hentz, Sarah Josepha Hale, and Mary Jane Holmes. However, since Pattee's tone throughout The Feminine Fifties derided the sentimental style of many women of the period, his flippant classification of Stephens as a melodramatic writer of ephemera is not surprising. In contrast, Helen Waite Papashvily in 1956 credited Stephens with a superior business sense that secured her position as one of America's favorite writers--even if her work tended to be derivative of favorite plots and character types. In 1962, Madeleine Stern furthered Stephens's reputation by including her in a collection of historically important nineteenth-century women, again as the author of the first Beadle Dime Novel.
However, critical opinion in the last twenty years has turned to focus more closely on Stephens work apart from the 1860 reprint of Malaeska. In particular, Nina Baym includes Stephens in her analysis of the subgenre she christens "woman's fiction"--popular fiction written by and for women during the mid- nineteenth century. Because many of Stephens's works focus on the trials of a female heroine--whether she is white, Indian, or of mixed ancestry--as she struggles to secure a position in a world of dangers and temptations, Baym includes her work in this subgenre. And while none of Stephens's works has found a place in the standard anthologies of American literature, she has become a fixture in guides and reference works on nineteenth-century women writers.
Duyckinck, Evert A., and George L. Duyckinck. Cyclopaedia of American Literature. 2 vols. Philadelphia: William Rutter & Co., 1875.
Hale, Sarah Josepha. Woman's Record. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855.
Sklar, Kathryn Kish. Catharine Beecher. A Study in American Domesticity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973.
The Portland Sketch Book. Edited by Ann Sophia Stephens. Portland: Colman & Chisholm, 1836. Includes Stephens poem "The Widowed Bride" and story "The Deserted Wife."