Joanne Dobson is a founding editor of Legacy, with Martha Ackmann and Karen Dandurand. Throughout her academic career, in which she has taught at Fordham University, Amherst College, and Tufts University, she has dedicated herself to recovering nineteenth-century American women's writing. As editor of the Rutgers American Women Writers Series, with Judith Fetterley and Elaine Showalter, she helped to transform college curricula. Among her scholarly publications are Dickinson and the Strategies of Reticence: The Woman Writer in Nineteenth-Century America (Indiana University Press, 1989) and an edition of The Hidden Hand; or, Capitola the Madcap, by E. D. E. N. Southworth, 1859 (Rutgers University Press, 1988).
More recently, Dobson has approached academia and nineteenth-century literary/academic themes through writing fiction. Her Karen Pelletier mystery series features an English professor sleuth whose success depends not only upon her keen observation and clever mind but also upon her familiarity with the nineteenth century and the high stakes of present-day literary scholarship. The first book in the series, Quieter Than Sleep (Doubleday, 1997), was nominated for an Agatha Award for best first mystery novel. This was followed by The Northbury Papers (Doubleday, 1998), The Raven and the Nightingale (Doubleday, 1999), Cold and Pure and Very Dead (Doubleday, 2000), The Maltese Manuscript (Poisoned Pen, 2003), and Death Without Tenure: A Professor Karen Pelletier Mystery (due out from Poisoned Pen in early 2010).
Another literary foray into the nineteenth century, Anna's Book was inspired by the life of Emily Chubbuck Judson (1817–1854), third wife of American missionary Adironam Judson, with whom Emily traveled to Burma in 1846. After her husband's death in 1850, Emily Judson returned to the United States and embarked upon a career as a popular poet under the pen name Fanny [End Page 337] Forester. Fascinated by these contrasting phases of Judson's life, and informed by her own work on Fanny Osgood's salon poetry, Dobson set out to write a nineteenth-century sentimental novel in the twenty-first century—one that explored, in part, the powerful cultural medium of the literary salon. This was a milieu in which fortunes were transformed, as Anna's is when she meets Fanny Fern and realizes the potential of her own work. With such literary recognition would come national distribution as well, via the developing railroad network alluded to in Anna's dream. Dobson has written a complete draft of Anna's Book and is in the process of revising the novel. The following excerpt was read publicly at the Society for the Study of American Women Writers Conference in Philadelphia in 2006. [End Page 338]
- Chapter Fourteen
When the invitation from Mrs. Phoebe Derwent came, it read: "I am pleased to invite you to a small, informal literary gathering Wednesday evening at my home on Gramercy Park. Having seen your lovely Indian verses—I trust you won't mind that Will Larkin has shared the manuscripts with me—I find that I desire to know you."
The invitation caused Anna no little anxiety. She was consumed with searching for India Elizabeth, her lost daughter, and that quest took her into far different society than any to be found in Gramercy Park. Indeed, she had never been one to go out into fashionable company, having neither the inclination nor the opportunity. Further, she knew no one who would be at Mrs. Derwent's (except, she assumed, her publisher, Mr. Larkin), and, to complicate matters, she hadn't a frock fit to wear upon such an occasion.
She considered declining, but Caroline was horrified. "Mrs. Derwent is a leading light among the New-York literati, and you are at the very beginnings of a literary career. I could afford to refuse such a summons, as I am known for bad manners and invited in spite of them." She paused, then gave a little laugh. "Or, perhaps, because of them. But you, you must foster new acquaintance. Pay no attention to the claims of 'small' and 'informal.' I've never known Phoebe Derwent to have an evening party of less than fifty. There will be poets...