The (Other) American Traditions: Nineteenth-Century Women Writers

By Joyce W. Warren | Go to book overview

that these writers represent traditions other than that of the solitary male quest, which for so long dominated the study of American literature. They also represent the traditions of "the other"--the individual who in nineteenth-century American society was regarded as "other" by the dominant culture. However, although they have been regarded as other by their society, the traditions of women's writing should be regarded not as subordinate to the tradition of male individualist fiction, but as existing parallel to it. Women and women's writing cannot simply be referred to as other, because the word other implies that they must be viewed in relation to something else, that they are other than the prescribed norm, and that they are somehow deviant from that norm. By itself, the word other suggests a hierarchical relationship. What I intend to indicate by the parentheses is that although these traditions and the women who wrote in them bare been made to seem other by their society, we need to see them as primary and not simply as relational. In fact, in world literature, traditions like these, which focus on interpersonal relationships between men and women, relating the individual to society, are the major traditions. Looking at the work of nineteenth-century American women writers helps to bring American literature back into the mainstream of world literature, where it is the tradition of the insular male that is other.

Joyce W. Warren


NOTES
1
Fanny Fern, "Male Criticism on Ladies Books," New York Ledger ( May 23, 1857).
2
Nina Baym, Woman's Fiaion: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870 ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 14. See also Baym "Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors," American Quarterly 33 (Summer 1981): 123-139.
3
For a description of this course and the results, see Joyce W. Warren, "Gender and Literature: Teaching 'The (Other) American Tradition,'" Radical Teacher, no. 37 ( 1989): 30-33.

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