Best known for her culinary and domestic guides and the award-winning short story “Mrs. Washington Potts,” Eliza Leslie deserves a much more prominent place in contemporary literary discussions of the nineteenth century. Her writing, known for its overtly moralistic and didactic tones—though often presented with wit and humor—also provides contemporary readers with a nuanced perspective for understanding the diversity among American women in Leslie’s time.
Leslie’s writing serves as a commentary on gender ideals and consumerism; presents complicated constructions of racial, national, and class-based identities; and critiques literary genres such as the Gothic romance and the love letter. These criticisms are exposed through the juxtaposition of her fiction and nonfiction instructive texts, which range from lessons on literary conduct to needlework; from recipes for American and French culinary dishes to travel sketches; from songs to educational games. Demonstrating the complexity of choices available to women at the time, this volume enables readers to see how Leslie’s rhetoric and audience awareness facilitated her ability to appeal to a broad swath of the nineteenth-century reading public.