"Reclaiming Authorship augments our knowledge of the female literary tradition and enriches our grasp of the process by which women authors sought public status in a publishing marketplace. It challenges basic tenets of the origins of realism and posits a definable historical transition from the romantic to the realist."—Cecelia Tichi
2006 | 264 pages | Cloth $65.00
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Defining Female Authorship
Chapter 2. Writing in and out of the Home: Parlor Culture and Authorship
Chapter 3. Authorizing Reception: Maria Cummins and The Lamplighter
Chapter 4. Revising Romance: Louisa May Alcott, Hawthorne, and the Civil War
Chapter 5. Contractual Authorship: Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Abigail Dodge
Chapter 6. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's Ethical Authorship
Chapter 7. Epilogue: Amateurs and Professionals in Woolson and James
When I first began this study of female authors, I had in mind relating the key term "authorship" to some other critical category: realism as a literary mode, or the formation of women's professional life in the United States, or the nineteenth-century literary marketplace and its production of cultural hierarchies of taste. And indeed, this book takes up all of these categories in one way or another, thinking in particular about realism as an authorial practice as well as the way in which the women studied here constructed their professional relations to the marketplace. But in the end I have realized that I am ultimately most interested in the category of authorship itself: how it was defined and what it teaches us about American literary history in the second half of the nineteenth century.
My approach to this topic is largely historical, focusing on the complex ways in which five nineteenth-century women—Maria Susanna Cummins, Louisa May Alcott, Mary Abigail Dodge, Elizabeth Keckley, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps—foregrounded the issue of authorship in their manuscript and published writing. Their understandings of this term were necessarily influenced by the literary culture of which they were part, including ongoing debates about romance and realism, literary nationalism, literary property and copyright, and professionalism. These debates were shared by male and female authors alike, and for that reason I situate these women authors alongside their male counterparts, understanding Alcott and Dodge in the context of Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example, or Phelps in the context of William Dean Howells. Yet, this is fundamentally a study of female authorship. By grouping these women together, I hope to give them increased critical visibility while also highlighting their various models of authorship.
In offering case studies of women authors, this book follows the scholarly trend, over the past several decades, of studying nineteenth-century women's writing as a distinct literary tradition. Much of this scholarship, inspired by seminal works such as Nina Baym's Women's Fiction (1978) and Josephine Donovan's New England Local Color Literature (1983), focuses on sentimental and domestic fiction in the antebellum period and on regionalism in the postbellum period. This work has had the important effect of highlighting the particular contributions of women's writing to nineteenth-century American history and helping to consolidate the study of American women writers as a field of study. My own reason for focusing on women authors, however, is not to claim a specific "women's literary tradition," as Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse describe regionalism in their recent comprehensive study. Instead, I propose, first, to help close the gap between antebellum sentimental and postbellum regionalist writing by giving attention to authors who wrote throughout the period 1850-1900 (and who do not always fit into a single tradition) and, second, to claim—or, more accurately, to reclaim—female authorship as serving as what Michel Foucault terms "a means of classification" within this period. Its features were not wholly separate from those associated with male authorship, but they were discussed and utilized in distinct ways. Moreover, these features did not lead to a single definition of "the female author," but rather opened up a variety of practices and authorial personae.
My interest in filling in some of the gaps between sentimentalism and regionalism is reflected in two other recent studies, both of which were published as I was completing the manuscript for this book. The first, Anne Boyd's Writing for Immortality (2004), also seeks to challenge a "pattern of women's writing that advances from sentimentalism to domestic fiction to local color" and "perpetuate[s] the narrow view of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century canonizers who sought to elevate a few writers above all others." Boyd suggests that we focus instead on the generation of women—writing primarily in the 1860s and 1870s—who contributed to an emerging high literary culture by "clearly adopting models of authorship that previously had been considered available only to men." This interest in high culture is echoed in Naomi Sofer's Making the "America of Art" (2005). Sofer sees the second half of the nineteenth century as witnessing an important shift from moral and religious to aesthetic goals in a "transitional generation" of women writers, a shift that is accompanied by a high art that is specifically tied to American nationalism. Sofer's main interest is in the "emergence of the self-consciously literary American woman writer" and the connection of that emergence to ongoing conversations about the utility of art in the post-Civil War nation.
Reclaiming Authorship differs from these other studies in its emphasis on how women theorized their own authorship, a theory that did not produce a unified conception of authorial practice (as, for example, of "high art") or trajectory of authorial careers. To be sure, the women studied here were influenced in various ways by constructions of sentimentality and/or of high culture. And the overall trajectory of their careers moves, broadly, from the domestic and personal to the contractual and cosmopolitan. Furthermore, as I show in Chapter 1, discussions of female authorship as a general category—discussions that occurred primarily in the pages of American periodicals—did help to define its general features. Yet each individual author related to these general features in various ways. Maria Cummins adapted a reader-centered parlor authorship, while Louisa May Alcott recreated Hawthorne's notion of the author as romancer. Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Abigail Dodge presented a contractual model of authorship, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps utilized a carefully constructed ethical model.
Some of these models apply to male authorship as well, one obvious example being the case of Alcott and Hawthorne. In this sense, I am sympathetic to Catherine Gallagher's claim, in her study of eighteenth-century British women writers, that "the 'feminine' aspects of their authorial personae only intensified contradictions implicit in authorship generally." In this view, women do not belong "to a separate tradition" but instead are "representatives of the condition of the author" in general. Rather than argue that American authorship as a whole was a feminized construct, however, I want to single out the classificatory function of female authorship for particular analysis. In part, this is because nineteenth-century authors and critics did so; to recover the cultural field of nineteenth-century definitions we are required to consider women's authorship as a distinct, if not exclusive, category.
Pierre Bourdieu's explication of the competing principles of cultural hierarchy—the "heteronomous" and the "autonomous"—is useful here. The first refers to a notion of authorship ("the established definition of the writer") that arises from market demand and is therefore subject to external forces; its primary values are social utility and wide recognition. The second, which is the ideal aspired to by many high-art authors, sees "temporal failure as a sign of election and success as a sign of compromise." This autonomous principle supports an internal recognition of value (analogous to modern peer review) and can be a force both of radical experimentation (since it is not dependent on market "success") and of disciplinary policing (reinforcing the borders of values that have already been established). However, the main point of Bourdieu's analysis, I take it, is that, while competing in a "battlefield over taxonomy," these two principles are also inherently interconnected and reciprocal. One principle defines success as popular and the other as elite, but the idea of the elite would not exist without the popular. Although cultural production often exists as a struggle for a "monopoly of literary legitimacy," in other words, both sides of the struggle are fundamental to the production of that legitimacy.
In general, contemporary studies of American women's authorship in the second half of the nineteenth century have understood women as moving up in the literary hierarchy by proceeding from the heteronomous to the autonomous, or from writing for economic necessity to writing as artists for art's sake. This is, broadly, the progression traced by Boyd and Sofer as well as by the scholars who influenced them, particularly Elizabeth Ammons, who sees the autonomous principle as leading to a coherent "pioneer generation" of women artists at the end of the century, and Richard Brodhead, who traces the move toward high-art authorship in Alcott and Jewett. The complicating factor, however, is that many of the female (and male) authors during this period assumed different positions in relation to the literary field at various times in their careers, and not necessarily in a coherent movement. Alcott, for example, wrote a philosophical novel about the value of art, Moods, before writing the market-driven Little Women and its sequels and then moved to revise Moods near the end of her career. Phelps wrote a wildly popular spiritualist novel, The Gates Ajar, and then a "high-art" novel, The Story of Avis, only to move back at the end of her life to what she referred to as hack writing. If such works are "position takings," as Bourdieu calls them, they reflect ever-changing and variable positions in the literary field. It is for this reason that Bourdieu cautions against "universalizing the particular case," stating that analysts "will only ever encounter historical definitions of the writer, corresponding to a particular state of the struggle to impose the legitimate definition of the writer." By isolating various examples of such historical definitions, Reclaiming Authorship investigates the historical functions of the category of female authorship while also being attentive to its local practices.
One effect of such a study is to recover the multiple terms under which female authorship was defined and practiced in the second half of the nineteenth century. Another effect is to question an oppositional mode of scholarship that pits competing modes of authorship against each other. Some such competition is, as Bourdieu makes clear, fundamental to literary production. Indeed, literary critics and scholars also operate within this inherently competitive "playing field," vying for the cultural authority of their particular views. In the scholarly field of American women's writing, this point has been historically evident in studies that oppose literary value and cultural work, or artistic experimentation and social justice, or professionalism and artistry. These struggles have the effect not only of replicating debates that have already been waged on behalf of male authors (note Boyd's emphasis on women taking up authorial positions formerly available only to men) but also of impeding new ways of conceiving the field.
Oppositional criticism does not have to be, I think, fundamental to our own scholarly practices. Bourdieu suggests this when he defines his methodology as helping to resolve tensions between close or "internal" readings of cultural products and external or sociological ones. By proposing models of authorship that do not fall neatly into either of Bourdieu's categories (or rather that partake aspects of both), I hope to move the conversation beyond opposition and toward alternate ways of conceptualizing authorial labor. I do so in part because I think such alternatives more accurately reflect the lived experiences of the women I study here, women who, while aware of the competing principles operating in the larger cultural field, did not necessarily define themselves in terms of that competition.
For the purposes of this book, the most fundamental competing principles that I will be investigating are those embedded in the terms "woman writer" and "female author." As we will see in Chapter 1, discussions about the relative status of these terms formed a key element in the historical construction of authorship. On the whole, writers in the nineteenth century were seen as occupying a lower (heteronomous) cultural plane than autonomous authors since they were defined as those who wrote from experience or observation rather than from unique genius or imagination. Authors, on the other hand, were associated with a discrete, original, and prophetic imagination, a proprietary model of production, and a personality anterior to the work of art. In this scenario women were often cast as writers rather than authors, as having a natural strength of observation and attention to detail that sometimes precluded their imaginative range.
At the same time, the category of the "female author," particularly as it was discussed in periodical columns and stories, recast this opposition by embracing the experiential power of observation while also defining writers as being less controlled and disciplined in their use of it. Authorship and writing, that is to say, had similar origins but different outcomes. This idea of "universal exceptionalism," as Jennifer Cognard-Black has put it, posited that authorship, as a profession, was broadly accessible-available to anyone who wished to be trained into it-but also subject to "structural limitations on who qualified as an appropriate trainee." By establishing criteria for what constituted authorship, professional female authors—those who were paid for work that showed a particular level of expertise—served as disciplinary gatekeepers. Yet, they did so, I think, less to establish a "monopoly of literary legitimacy," as Bourdieu puts it, than to give a realistic sense of the distance to be traveled between experiential observation and aesthetic production. The representation of such distance, in turn, demystified the concept of artistic "genius" and, by the end of the century, consolidated authorship as a category that could be applied to women as well as to men.
Given this history, it is significant that contemporary criticism, influenced by postmodernism, has come to privilege the term "writer" rather than "author." Within the field of nineteenth-century American women's writing, even scholars interested in the relation of women to "high art," such as Sofer and Cognard-Black, use the term "writer" or "artist," whereas in the nineteenth century "author" would have been the requisite term. The Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW), the field's main scholarly organization, also reflects this shift, as do the two most influential publishing ventures for American women in the past two decades: the Rutgers American Women Writers series (1986-93) and Oxford's Schomburg Library of Black Women Writers (1988-2002).
Taken together, the Schomburg and Rutgers series constitute a new canon of women's literature, one that scholars and the general public can line up on their bookshelves. The Rutgers series was, as coeditor Judith Fetterley puts it, "recovery made visible," a "notable dream" despite its "innocent" assumption that it could "provide in one collectible bookshelf all the significant texts of prose fiction produced by American women in the nineteenth century." Oxford University Press issued the complete forty-volume set of the Schomburg series in 2002 so that it too could be lined up in a row. The blue binding and gilt lettering on the covers of these volumes resemble nothing so much as the house style of the nineteenth-century Boston publisher Ticknor and Fields, which in 1856 began to use blue and gold to distinguish its pocket editions of high-art publications. Oxford, like Ticknor and Fields, is publishing a distinctive, library-quality series that helps give prestige to previously neglected authors. In this sense, it serves as an important counterpart to another recent (and ongoing) series, the Library of America, which seeks to provide "handsome, enduring volumes" to individuals and institutions and defines itself as being "dedicated to preserving the works of America's greatest writers." Writers, not authors, can now be associated with high art, greatness, and longevity, whatever their previous status.
To some extent this shift has operated more as a disciplinary unconscious than as a polemical practice. Despite the critical currency of the term "writer," much of the recovery work done on these writers has of necessity utilized traditional modes of single-author study, focusing on such issues as biography and publishing history. Early covers of Legacy (now the official journal of the SSAWW) included a list of individual names of women (repeated in various patterns), a graphic display both of the presence of what had previously been an absence in American literary history and of the controlling idea of the journal. These early issues also featured profiles of individual women as well as photographs of their historic homes. By focusing on the recovery of these women's personal lives, the journal was implicitly working to recover their status as personalities—authors—behind particular works.
At the same time, since the records and archives for some women were more available than others, these biographical profiles lifted up certain women over others—something that the use of the term "writer" (and the cover of Legacy) seemed to want to guard against. Although the generation of scholars who first did the work of recovery found new ways of conceptualizing literary value, the succeeding scholarship has in fact shown that some writers have appealed more to current critical taste than have others. There have been special issues of Legacy devoted to Emily Dickinson and Willa Cather, and the first major conference of nineteenth-century American women writers was prompted by and organized around the centenary of Harriet Beecher Stowe. At the SSAWW's first international conference in 2001, the most frequently talked about nineteenth-century figures were Dickinson, Fuller, and Jewett, and in 2003 Stowe, Dickinson, and Gilman were the focus of discussion. In part this is because each of these women (except for Jewett) has a scholarly society devoted to research on her works, and these societies are signs in themselves of continuing interest in individual authors. Ironically, the only panel at either of these conferences to use the word "author" was one in 2001 entitled "Historicism and the Present: A Discussion of Lesser-Studied Nineteenth Century Authors." The wording of this panel title suggests that more frequently studied figures can safely be called "writers" but that understudied ones are still fighting for the legitimacy that the term "author" provides. (It is instructive, in this regard, that scholars in digital media studies currently speak of "web authors" rather than "web writers.")
I note these phenomena not to criticize either Legacy or the SSAWW conference, both of which have been crucial to the formation and growth of American women's writing as a field. Rather, I want to note that despite the wide use of the term "writer," there are still certain women whose lives and works receive the lion's share of critical attention and who are treated as individual "authors." They are for the most part the usual suspects, the figures who have been visible in twentieth-century American literary history the longest. Appropriately enough, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Emily Dickinson—each of whom was the focus of a total of fifteen papers over the two conferences—are also featured on the "American Women Authors Card Game," currently manufactured by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. In this respect, my call to talk about women as "authors" may diverge from current critical terminology more than it does from actual practice. However, I want to suggest that we need to synchronize practice and terminology, particularly given the fact that so many nineteenth-century women worked hard to claim themselves as "authors."
If the actual study of American women has often taken an author-centered approach, why has "writer" become the privileged term in the scholarly field? The main answer to this question is that the use of the term has achieved some salutary political and scholarly functions. First, it has reclaimed a "master" term, shifting attention from the myth of a God-like single creator by converting the "damned mob of scribbling women" (made famous by Hawthorne's phrase in a letter to his publisher) into writers of great variety, complexity, and depth. Second, use of the term has expanded the literary field to include writing of all kinds—not only prose, drama, and poetry but also letters, diaries, advice books, travel accounts, and anything else that women wrote. (In the case of the Library of America, however, this expansion has not led to increased access to women's writing; as of 2005 there are titles by sixty-one male authors and twelve female ones, with only three of these being offered in "college editions" suitable for classroom use.) Third, use of the term "writer" has bracketed issues of canonicity. Since the term "author" is taken to be more privileged than "writer," calling all women "writers" means not having to discriminate among different kinds of literary production. Fourth, it has highlighted the political aims of women's writing, allowing for a criticism based on identity politics that is not as easily open to the proprietary term "author." Last, use of the term "writer" has created a synergy between the women being recovered and the women doing the work of recovery. Few scholars that I know would call themselves "authors," but almost all of us do talk about our writing (or lack of it). A roundtable discussion at the 2003 SSAWW conference examined "Twenty-First Century Working Women Writing on Nineteenth-Century Women Writing Work," thereby stressing the continuity between the women doing the work of literary recovery and the women writers they are recovering. The hard work of writing scholarship and the hard work undertaken by nineteenth-century women writers are mutually reinforced by the homologous term "writer."
Underlying all of this is the general shift, in literary study, from authorship to writing in the wake of theoretical debates about the "death of the author." To be sure, the emergence of book history as a critical field has helped to resurrect the importance of authorship to what Robert Darnton calls "a full understanding of the transmission of texts." Yet, the influence of Roland Barthes's claim that the reader, not the author, is the originator of textual meaning remains strong. Barthes's notion that texts could be made of "multiple writings" shifts the focus away from a hypercompetitive and possessive "authordoxy," as one critic puts it, that "does not allow…for that which may be authoritative without being authoritarian." Yet, as feminist critics have shown, Barthes declared the author dead just at the moment when women had again become culturally visible in that position. "For the author to die," as Christine Battersby puts it, "he must first have lived." Barthes saw the author as a kind of imperialist category—as a concept that "still reigns" and "tyrannically" limits the play of language—but his willingness to dismiss the category was itself an act of male privilege and patriarchal oppression that was, in Battersby's words, "parasitic on the canons of 'great texts' and 'great authors' established by Modernism." Michel Foucault, in his response to Barthes, supports this view when he notes that the concept of writing (ecriture) "sustains the privileges of the author through the safeguard of the a priori." Foucault's solution to this is the concept of a discursive "author function" and the related idea that authorship is a necessary cultural construction that is usefully applied to some works but not to others. As such, it serves a "certain functional principle."
Understanding authorship as a functional principle—a principle that both converges and diverges with actual literary practice—necessitates reclaiming it from its romantic, modern, and postmodern constructions. Doing so allows us to think about female authorship as its own functional principle (if not tradition) and about the specific ways in which it enabled and sometimes disabled women who wanted to adapt it to their own ends. This does not mean dismissing the various critiques of authorship waged in contemporary criticism; it is crucial to understand the structures of privilege surrounding the term and to be attentive to the ways in which it functioned to deny access to certain kinds of literary production. However, it does mean being aware of our own use of the term and remembering the great lengths to which some nineteenth-century women went to claim the title "author." Foucault acknowledges the significance of "a sociohistorical analysis of the author as an individual persona" that would include a study of the "status" of authorship at particular historical moments. It is this status that I seek to unpack in this book and reclaim as an important lens through which to understand the history of women's literary production.
A corollary of this claim is that it is important to continue to support single-author studies of American women. This goes against the grain of current publishing trends, which support studies (like this one) that think about literary and cultural formations and an array of authors and texts. But just as feminist scholars were right to complain that the death of the author came before the birth of the female author, so too should we worry about the death of single-author and bibliographical studies just at the moment when they are most needed in the feminist project of recovery. For the most part, women authors lack the authoritative textual and bibliographic information that has been given to many of their male peers. This lack, in turn, means that it is difficult to do some of the basic work involved in studying the history of authorship. The Modern Language Association's Center for Editions of American Authors (my emphasis), for example, is now subsumed into the work of the Committee on Scholarly Editions. No longer does it exist to fund and coordinate editorial work for standard editions of American works, as it did in 1968, when director William Gibson was able to report in the New York Review of Books that he was overseeing the preparation of authoritative editions of Emerson's works, the Centenary Hawthorne edition published by Ohio State University Press (which ended in 1994 without a projected volume of Sophia Hawthorne's letters), a complete Thoreau, the Mark Twain Papers, the Indiana University Howells project, and the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Melville. Instead, its main function is advisory and evaluative, providing guidelines for editors of scholarly editions, both digital and print. This broadening makes it applicable to all periods, nationalities, and languages but does not provide focused help—both financial and editorial—for scholars seeking to establish appropriate copy texts for, say, the complete works of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.
Although there are some fine scholarly editions of female authors available—examples include Jean Fagan Yellin's edition of Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and her new digital Jacobs archive; R. W. Franklin's edition of Dickinson's poetry (published, like the Jacobs text, by Harvard); and the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition published by the University of Nebraska Press—there are no complete authoritative scholarly editions of the works even of such canonical authors as Alcott, Stowe, or Jewett, not to mention of more newly emergent ones. I hope that my study will inspire in-depth, single-author studies and editions of the women, in addition to Alcott, presented here: Cummins, Dodge, Keckley, and Phelps.
Although these authors are known, studied, and in print, they have not received as much attention as some of their peers have, despite the fact that they were better known in the nineteenth century. Cummins's The Lamplighter sold more copies than Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World, and yet it is often conflated with Warner's work as an exemplum of the domestic and/or sentimental novel (the terms shift). Alcott, although a figure of continuing fascination, has on the whole received less critical attention than has another key midcentury figure, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Dodge ("Gail Hamilton"), as a humorist and cultural critic, is now less well-known than her friend Fanny Fern. Elizabeth Keckley's narrative has been overshadowed by Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Phelps, one of the most prolific and varied authors of the nineteenth century, has been seen primarily in tandem with other authors who correlate to various parts of her career: Rebecca Harding Davis in terms of her depiction of the working class; George Eliot in conjunction with The Story of Avis; Sarah Orne Jewett in the depiction of the woman doctor. The regionalist contributions of Constance Fenimore Woolson, whose story "Miss Grief" I consider in the epilogue, tend to be subordinated to those of New Englanders such as Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman. My aim, however, is to depict these authors as key proponents of certain practices of women's authorship more than as forgotten influences.
Each of the authors presented here highlights a particular practice of female authorship in the second half of the nineteenth century. Although I make no claims that these women provide an exhaustive history of authorship between 1850 and 1900, I do believe that they represent some of the key models available to women at this time. As shown in Chapters 1 and 2, all of these models worked within the context of prevailing definitions of authorship put forward in magazines, advice books, letters to aspiring writers, and literary accounts of authors. It is notable, for instance, that Mrs. A. J. Graves's 1847 list of the ideal subject matter for female novelists reads as a template for much of the fiction discussed in this book. Graves advised that women write not about "artificial women of fashion" but rather about a "humble seamstress," "the experience of the solitary female orphan," "the struggle of the widowed mother," or "the trials of the much-enduring, neglected, and oppressed wife of the brutal inebriate"—a list that we can see in practice in Elizabeth Keckley's account of her work as a seamstress, Maria Cummins's depiction of the orphan Gerty, and Alcott's and Phelps's representations of the lives of wives and mothers. Yet, even as these writings correspond to Graves's list, the authors who produced them demonstrate a range of approaches and concerns.
Maria Cummins, with whom I begin, exemplifies the link between the amateur manuscript culture of the parlor and professional authorship. Writing initially to her nieces, in The Lamplighter she converts what is essentially a private parlor performance into an international best-seller. Such "parlor literature" emphasizes the moment of telling between narrator and reader, thereby highlighting the importance of reception to any construction of authorship.
My study of Louisa May Alcott in Chapter 4 explores how she reanimates the well-worn notion that literary realism emerged as a response to the Civil War. By examining some of Alcott's Civil War writing, I show how she created a form of domestic realism that was synonymous with-not a delayed reaction to-the war. This realism reanimated the model of romance practiced by her Concord neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne while at the same time reaching toward a vision of revolution as an alternate model of civil conflict. These concerns, I argue, characterize Alcott's "sensational" writing as well as her domestic writing, leading to a model of authorship that is fluid and dynamic rather than internally divided.
Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Abigail Dodge, the subjects of Chapter 5, represent a different form of authorial conflict: that between an author and her male mediators, particularly publishers. Although both of these women experienced such conflict, their writings remain optimistic about the ability of legal obligations and what I term "contractual authorship" to provide material support for writing. Assimilating preindustrial models (personal letters and collaborative female friendships) into their exposes of the business of the marketplace, they did not oppose the market and "private" writing but rather defined authorship as a way of constituting both. Their racial differences influenced their relations to legal rights, but they represent authorship in similar ways as both a right and an obligation.
In Chapter 6, I offer a comprehensive case study of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, who in many ways merges the parlor writing of Cummins, the domestic realism of Alcott, and the business sense of Keckley and Dodge. In doing so, she redefines creative isolation as a form of productive citizenship. Although she advocates attending to the details of the business of publishing, she sees this business as integral to her construction of an ethical model of authorship.
The final chapter, an epilogue, presents thoughts about Constance Fenimore Woolson as an example of an author who was attracted to romantic authorship but also understood it to be inherently solipsistic and self-absorbed, as excluding those who most needed to hear its words. It is not surprising that she is often thought of in concert with (or as a footnote to) Henry James, who perhaps more than any other late nineteenth- century author was both attracted to and frightened by the models of female authorship he saw around him. I end with a short meditation on James, not to label him a "female author" or to say that the payoff of studying women authors is to better understand James, but rather to point to ways in which the model of authorship I trace might be applied well beyond the immediate cases put forward here.
In turn, these case studies challenge us to rethink the primacy of an oppositional, resistant model of authorship in the second half of the nineteenth century. Foucault has taught us that authorship is founded on transgression; books needed real authors at the historical moment "when the author became subject to punishment and to the extent that his discourse was considered transgressive." To be sure, some authors, males and females, thrived on such an oppositional model, particularly insofar as it defined itself as resisting the popular marketplace or conventional literary form. One of the most long-standing metanarratives of American literary history (one that is currently being questioned by transnational studies) defines American literature as arising out of a need to detach itself from its British "mother" and create literary heritages that would befit the new nation. The qualities of self-reliance, orphaning, and individualism that enabled literary nationalism have in turn informed many histories of American authorship. As Nina Baym has persuasively argued, there is an entire strain of American literary history that defined the best writing (and authors) as presenting "melodramas of beset manhood." In recent years the critical emphasis has been less on "beset manhood" (the way in which male heroes are troubled by and resist the civilizing influences of maternal women) than on "beset womanhood" or "beset commodity culture." In the former, the texts (and the women producing them) that are most valued are those that either critique patriarchal literary tradition through a poetics of irony or anger, or that are themselves shown to be complicit in imperialist and nationalist violence. In the latter, virtually every American author—whether male or female—is seen both as catering to and resisting an increasingly variegated and growing literary market.
I suspect that part of this oppositional relation has to do with scholars' own contested relations to the market and to their own writing. We work to preserve time for our "real work" of writing—which in turn determines our tenure, promotion, and professional standing—even while hearing from the Modern Language Association and other sources that there may soon be no market for our books. Yet the most remarkable thing about these women's authorial manifestos, to my mind, is that they are not particularly beset by anything. That is not to say that they do not recognize the challenges they have getting into print and withstanding the criticism sometimes leveled against them. But they imagine a kind of authorship in which productivity is not inherently linked to alienation or violence.
My goal in offering such a corrective is not simply to invert the gender hierarchy by arguing that male authors were the insecure, marginalized, and alienated artists who were vying for readers alongside the successful "scribbling mob" of women. Such an inversion is suggested in Michael Davitt Bell's remark that "we should also recognize that if there was anxiety or antagonism between these male and female 'traditions,' it flowed almost exclusively in one direction. Writers like Hawthorne and Melville aroused little professional anxiety in popular women writers." Bell's view of male anxiety is supported, in turn, by nineteenth-century commentaries such as an 1851 North American Review essay, "Female Authors." This essay cites a "witty satire" of Marmontel, La Femme Auteur, in which two loves, Natalie and Germeuil, are perfectly content until Natalie achieves success as an author, at which point Germeuil begins to affect "an obstinate opposition to every thing she said." The very fact of Natalie's success leads Germeuil to adopt a defensive oppositional stance. An 1853 article in the United States Review makes a direct appeal for men to convert this defensiveness into active competition for the literary market: "American authors, be men and heroes! Make sacrifices,…but publish books…for the hope of the future and the honor of America. Do not leave its literature in the hands of a few industrious females."
In the end, however, such a blame game spirals in on itself: nineteenth-century men were envious of women's success, then twentieth-century women were envious of men's success in the process of canonization, and so on. Such formulations do not move us beyond familiar oppositions between the high and the popular or the male and the female; instead, they simply shift their terms. Reclaiming Authorship encourages us to move beyond such oppositional thinking and to focus instead on the thoughtful commentaries that specific women offered about the trajectories, practices, and even pleasures of authorship. These commentaries, I trust, will ultimately illuminate the history of authorship for men as well as for women.