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Between the Novel and the News

The Emergence of American Women's Writing

Sari Edelstein

Publication Year: 2014

While American literary history has long acknowledged the profound influence of journalism on canonical male writers, Sari Edelstein argues that American women writers were also influenced by a dynamic relationship with the mainstream press. From the early republic through the turn of the twentieth century, she offers a comprehensive reassessment of writers such as Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Harriet Jacobs, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Drawing on slave narratives, sentimental novels, and realist fiction, Edelstein examines how advances in journalism—including the emergence of the penny press, the rise of the story-paper, and the birth of eyewitness reportage—shaped not only a female literary tradition but also gender conventions themselves.

Excluded from formal politics and lacking the vote, women writers were deft analysts of the prevalent tropes and aesthetic gestures of journalism, which they alternately relied upon and resisted in their efforts to influence public opinion and to intervene in political debates. Ultimately, Between the Novel and the News is a project of recovery that transforms our understanding of the genesis and the development of American women’s writing.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

I am happy to acknowledge the teachers, colleagues, friends, and family whose support made the publication of this book possible. At Brandeis University, Michael T. Gilmore directed the dissertation out of which this book developed, and his boundless knowledge and intellectual...

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pp. 1-16

Emily Dickinson read the newspaper every day.1 Although she is perhaps just as famous for her reclusive, inward life in Amherst as for her poetry, Dickinson was connected to the world around her through the daily press, especially the Springfield Daily Republican. Many of...

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1. Seditious Newspapers and Seduction Novels

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pp. 17-37

In 1788, Benjamin Rush, physician, essayist, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote a letter to the editor of the Federal Gazette titled “Directions for Conducting a Newspaper,” in which he urges the editor to avoid printing anything that might offend “female honour”...

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2. Rereading the Fallen Woman and the Penny Press

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pp. 38-65

In 1838, James Fenimore Cooper published The American Democrat, a book of social and political criticism, in which he devotes three chapters to the state of the American press. A staunch defender of the freedom of the press and the political importance of newspapers, he nonetheless...

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3. Category Crisis in Antebellum Story-Papers

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pp. 66-87

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If we live in the Nineteenth Century, why should we not enjoy the advantages which the Nineteenth Century offers? Why should our life be in any respect provincial? If we will read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the best...

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4. Eyewitness Literature and Civil War Journalism

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pp. 88-109

In a chapter of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) titled “Literary Lessons,” Jo attends a lecture on the Egyptian pyramids and finds herself sitting next to a boy reading a piece of sensation fiction by “S.L.A.N.G. Northbury” in the fictional story-paper the Weekly Volcano. Upon realizing...

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5. Colorful Writing in the Era of Yellow Journalism

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pp. 110-146

In 1889, the New York World reported that it was sending Nellie Bly, “girl reporter,” around the world to see if she could beat the fictional record in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days.1 Completing the circumnavigation of the globe in a mere seventy two days, Bly beat the...

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pp. 147-154

By the turn of the century, male and female writers alike registered their distaste for the profit-driven newspaper industry.1 Along with Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ida Wells-Barnett, and Edith Eaton, a spate of male realists exhibited contempt for daily newspapers, recoiling from...


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pp. 155-196


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pp. 197-218


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pp. 219-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935911
E-ISBN-10: 0813935911
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935898
Print-ISBN-10: 081393589x

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 7 halftones
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 874968851
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Between the Novel and the News

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women journalists -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Women journalists -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women and journalism -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Journalism and literature -- United States -- History.
  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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