By Jennifer Cognard-Black
Difficult prior reports that declare anxiousness and antagonism among transatlantic Victorian authors, Jennifer Cognard-Black uncovers a version of reciprocal impression between 3 of the preferred girls writers of the period. Combining analyses of private correspondence and print tradition with shut readings of key narratives, this research offers an unique background of transatlantic authorship that examines how those writers invented a collaborative aesthetics either inside and opposed to the dominant discourse of professionalism.
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Extra resources for Narrative in the Professional Age: Transatlantic Readings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and George Eliot (Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory)
Fiction made sense as the genre of choice for Stowe, Eliot, and Phelps in other ways as well. Particularly in America, by mid-century women fiction writers were the most popular authors of their day and thus fiction provided an established avenue of social influence. In addition, fiction constituted crucial patterns of consumption with the proliferation of serialized novels and higher rates of literacy among the middle and working classes. In other words, fiction—like the medium of television in the late INTRODUCTION 19 twentieth century—affected large groups of people and even national or international policy.
Chapters 64–65) Here, Phelps searches for apt imagery and language to capture the experience of burgeoning intellectual womanhood: esoteric rites of initiation against “blazing,” “burning” backgrounds—backgrounds as holy (white) as they are intense; a sacred communion between female mentor and pupil in which “nothing intervenes”; and atemporal, even elusive, transcendence accompanying this moment of artistic epiphany. Tellingly, Phelps couches her epiphany as highbrow (the sky a “noble thing”); the sought-after knowledge as permanent and delightful (one is happy “just because it existed, whether one reached it or not”); and the natural as an innately poetic world, one rife with alliteration (“great gardens”), rhyming schemes (“white”/ “moonlights”; “soft”/“cross”), and personifications (elms’ “lifted eyes,” the mountain’s “fine head”).
Woman is not man’s ward,” she exhorted. “Man is not woman’s guardian. 33 Casting her readers in this all-encompassing manner enabled Phelps to shape a decidedly professional worldview in tandem with her female aesthetic, one in which she herself acted as an exemplar of feminine strength and created similar exemplars such as Avis Dobell in The Story of Avis or portrayals of Eliot in various articles, poems, and lectures. For Phelps, as for Stowe, this doctrine became her measure of legitimate womanhood, the test to which any woman—a character in a novel, a reader, a suffragist, a fellow-worker—must live up.