Nineteenth-century American author, holistic health practitioner, and women’s rights advocate Mary Gove Nichols was well known in her own time, founding utopian communities, establishing and writing for health journals, giving lectures, and generally causing a stir by wearing pants and preaching Free Love. Yet, her work is largely unknown to twenty-first-century readers. This article argues that Gove Nichols’s fiction and nonfiction, including her autobiographical novel Mary Lyndon (1855), deserve renewed critical attention because of the significance of her philosophy of embodiment for twenty-first-century feminist scholarship. Although Gove Nichols argues that bodies are socially constructed, she does not dismiss bodies in her methods of liberating women from oppression. On the contrary, bodies form the basis of her activism: she argues that in order to reform society, one must look not only to intellectual and spiritual health, but also to the material health of those who live in it. In this way, her work heralds the twenty-first-century feminist theoretical turn toward a new materialism that argues for the resilient and creative potential of bodies in social justice movements. An analysis of Gove Nichols’s water-cure-inspired narrative strategies reveals how literature provides a way of thinking about bodies that is essential for theory.


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pp. 146-164
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