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Soft Canons

American Women Writers and Masculine Tradition

Karen L. Kilcup

Publication Year: 1999

“ In their innovative treatments of seemingly incomparable works, these critics promote dialogue not only about the texts under consideration but also about the very nature of how we read across lines of gender, race, class, and history. Individually, the essays are insightful and storng; collectively, they highlight the vibrancy of current research on nineteenth -century American women writers in particular and nineteenth-century American literature in general … an ideal critical companion for upper-level undergraduate or graduate courses.”—Annie Merrill Ingram, Symploke

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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Front Matter

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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix

Completing this project has been a great pleasure; many thanks to the contributors for not only their excellent essays but also their patience and timeliness. I am grateful to the University of Hull in in England, my home institution in 1995, for financial assistance when I formed the International Nineteenth- Century American Writers Research Group, whose members are ...

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The Conversation of “The Whole Family”: Gender, Politics, and Aesthetics in Literary Tradition

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pp. 14-26

In 1849 tireless anthologist and literary guru Rufus Griswold separated his bestselling The Poets and Poetry of America into two collections. The first, with the same title, contained only male poets. The second, The Female Poets of America, expanded the selection of increasingly popular women writers. The implications ...

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Lydia Maria Child, James Fenimore Cooper, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick: A Dialogue on Race, Culture, and Gender

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pp. 27-47

According to Roy Harvey Pearce, James Fenimore Cooper “set the pattern for writers who would treat of the Indian.” 1 Although the importance of Cooper’s mythopoetical rendering of an American frontier experience that helped shape a discourse of national identity remains clear, such phrasing tends ...

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Reconstructing Literary Genealogies: Frances E. W. Harper’s and William Dean Howells’s Race Novels

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pp. 48-66

Critic Frances Smith Foster’s recent and groundbreaking rediscovery of three early serialized novels by the well-known writer and abolitionist Frances E.W. Harper has effectively opened up new vistas on the history of African American literature, as well as of American fiction as a whole. In fact, the striking thematic ...

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Was Tom White? Stowe’s Dred and Twain’s "Pudd’nhead Wilson"

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pp. 67-81

Ellen Moers has established a persuasive case for the influence of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without, however, considering Stowe’s and Twain’s other antislavery novels, respectively, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856) and Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894). For most ...

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Shaped by Readers: The Slave Narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs

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pp. 82-98

The differences between Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) seem so substantial as almost to invalidate any grounds for meaningful comparison. The very forms of slavery they describe vary, even though both are family based and involve ...

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Body Politics and the Body Politic in William Wells Brown’s "Clotel" and Harriet Wilson’s "Our Nig"

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pp. 99-122

William Wells Brown’s Clotel is generally regarded as the first published African American novel; Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig is frequently identified as the first African American novel written by a woman and the first African American novel published in America. While both writers, then, in some sense confront a ...

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Wild Semantics: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Feminization of Edgar Allan Poe’s Arabesque Aesthetics

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pp. 123-140

When located in the negotiation between “aesthetics” and “politics,” women writers too often lose status. Traditional (modernist-inflected) critics have devalued women’s writing— and “feminine literary traditions”—on the basis of ostensibly insufficient artfulness and an excessive investment in the political ...

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Deepening Hues to Local Color: George Washington Cable and Sarah Barnwell Elliott

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pp. 141-166

George Washington Cable’s and Sarah Barnwell Elliott’s often similar literary response to matters of genre and culture in the last decades of the nineteenth century underscores the urgent need for volumes such as Soft Canons, for studies investigating the limits of “separate sphere” criticism and challenging the apparently ...

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"Sister Carrie" and "The Awakening": The Clothed, the Unclothed, and the Woman Undone

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pp. 167-183

Discussions of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) often recount the critical hostility that followed—and even preceded—the publication of the novels. Although the degree and extent to which Kate Chopin was affected by adverse criticism, either personally or ...

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Ladies Prefer Bonds: Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, and the Money Novel

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pp. 184-201

As the book’s first phrase, it seems to enter the fictional room like an indiscriminately applied scent, before its owner. The disagreeable ungainliness of the syllable “Spragg” begins with an assailing consonant cluster, plosively suggesting the embouchure of spitting or of disdain, and it ...

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Mining the West: Bret Harte and Mary Hallock Foote

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pp. 202-218

The category “Western writing” is a slippery one, and the exercise of forming and reforming a Western canon has become relatively obscure in the larger context of recent critical considerations of regionalism. Yet, even against a background where Western writers’ status is liable to shift, Bret Harte occupies a peculiarly ...

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My Banker and I Can Afford to Laugh! Class and Gender in Fanny Fern and Nathaniel Hawthorne

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pp. 219-238

I shall begin with some familiar words, though I want to give them a fresh spin: in an 1855 letter to his publisher, William D. Ticknor, Hawthorne vented his spleen on that “d——d mob of scribbling women” whose “trash” had highjacked American public taste.1 Some late-twentieth-century feminist critics ...

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Body/Rituals: The (Homo) Erotics of Death in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Rose Terry Cooke, and Edgar Allan Poe

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pp. 239-261

In his (in)famous, obsessively quoted statement that the death of a beautiful woman is “unquestionably” the most poetical topic in the world, Edgar Allan Poe also contemplates the adequate narrator of this topic, declaring that “equally it is beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such a topic are those of a bereaved ...

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The Five Million Women of My Race: Negotiations of Gender in W. E. B. Du Bois and Anna Julia Cooper

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pp. 262-280

The extent of gender differences in education in late-nineteenth- century America is well illustrated by the following two quotations, one by the foremost African American leader, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the other by the much less known Anna Julia Cooper, an African American teacher, historian, and writer of ...

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Woman Thinking: Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the American Scholar

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pp. 281-305

When Margaret Fuller, scholar, journalist, feminist, and critic, was drowned in a shipwreck off Fire Island, New York, in July 1850, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal: “If nature availed in America to give birth to such as she, freedom & honour & letters & art too were safe in this new world.”1 Yet, a generation ...

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How Conscious Could Consciousness Grow? Emily Dickinson and William James

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pp. 306-332

In 1890, in a monumental textbook that became a classic work in the emerging discipline of academic psychology, William James attempted the near-paradoxical task of describing the elusive, transient characteristics of consciousness as these present themselves to mental analysis. His writing gestured eloquently to ...


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pp. 333-336


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pp. 337-345

E-ISBN-13: 9781587292873
E-ISBN-10: 1587292874
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877456896
Print-ISBN-10: 0877456895

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 1999

Edition: paper

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Male authors -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History.
  • Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.).
  • Authorship -- Sex differences.
  • Masculinity in literature.
  • Canon (Literature).
  • Men in literature.
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