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Front-Page Girls: Women Journalists in American Culture and Fiction, 1880–1930. By Jean-Marie Lutes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2006.

The most striking images from Jean-Marie Lutes's analysis of gendered publicity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are of the bodily violations that female journalists endure—or nearly escape—in the interests of getting a story. By invoking such reported incidents as Nellie Bly's brush with a doctor bent on performing an unnecessary tonsilectomy and Djuna Barnes's submission to a grisly force-feeding procedure, Lutes underscores her central concern, namely that the body of the female journalist of this period was inseparable from her reportage. Through the spectacle of her journalism, the female journalist became newsworthy herself.

But this is just one of the thematic threads of Front-Page Girls. Lutes, an assistant professor of English at Villanova University, also is interested in the "channels of influence between journalism and literature" (5), the discursive kinship between women's reportage during this period and fiction by and about women journalists. Lutes offers a series of fascinating analyses—in which she reads women's bodies, as both subject and object, against a variety of news and literary texts—and demonstrates the logical interdependence of the two genres in this context.

Even so, the narrative lacks unity. Wedged between chapters on the writing of "girl stunt reporters" and the "sob sisters" is a chapter on Ida B. Wells and other African-American newswomen of the period. The analysis of black women's journalism foregrounds the whiteness of the other writers under discussion as well as the differences in the common sense that attached to white and non-white bodies. At the same time, Lutes' discussion of the black women journalists' role in the black counterpublic is not woven into the narrative and feels like a tangent.

Similarly, the narrative fails to lay sufficient groundwork for the analysis, in Chapter 4, of Henry James' two versions of The Portrait of a Lady or the discussion in Chapter 5 of the interplay of the journalism and fiction of Edna Ferber, Willa Cather, and Djuna Barnes. Located in the book's final chapters, these discussions are another departure from the narrative's initial focus. This lack of cohesion is emphasized by the presence of a short epilogue that opens a new discussion of the portrayal of the woman journalist in film. [End Page 157]

Each chapter in Front-Page Girls is an important essay on one aspect of Lutes's analysis of the female embodiment of journalism; however, the book is less than the sum of its parts. The project is simply too ambitious for 165 pages of text. While Lutes opens doors to the ways in which women writers were both empowered and constrained by their bodies in different contexts during the same period, synthesis is lacking at key moments.

Within each chapter, however, the scholarship is richly detailed and thorough, and the analysis is insightful. Chapter 3, a reading of the "sob sisters'" coverage of the 1907 murder trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, brilliantly demonstrates the spectacle of both the women journalists and Thaw's wife, the star witness, all of whom are at various moments both subjects and objects within the sphere of publicity, where power manifests in bodily control.

Gwyneth Mellinger
Baker University