Charles Explorer logo

Early American Women Writers: The Origins of Feminism

Class at Faculty of Arts |


NOT TAUGHT ANY LONGER - APOLOGIES (part of Fulbright exchange)

David Hicks, PhD (American Literature, New York University)

Professor of Literature/Director of Creative Writing, Wilkes University

                                                                                                                                             Internet phone #: 570-591-1717

Seminar: Thursdays 12:30-14:05, Faculty of Arts Room 1

Office Hour: Thursdays 11:00-12:00, Faculty of Arts 219C  

“America is now wholly given over to a [damned] mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash—and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1855  

Objectives: This seminar will focus on the literary origins of feminism in the United States, which asserted itself mostly by way of subterfuge; for in order to be published, women needed to adhere to the standards of white male editors, but in order to make their feminist case, they had to embed radical subtexts within their conventional texts—manifesting a version of the “dual consciousness” that (according to W.E.B. Dubois) was a characteristic of African-American character. Thus they simultaneously played and depicted (while also subverting) what Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (in Madwoman in the Attic) label as the dual roles of women in literature: those of “angel” and “monster.” The result? Their work simultaneously asserts and undermines the entrenched roles assigned to women, creating rich and disturbing works of literature for us to study.  

Among the “scribbling women” that Hawthorne complained about were accomplished authors from whose style and themes Hawthorne “borrowed” for his own work. We will endeavor to appreciate and study some of those works, foremost on their own merits, but also in the context of the times in which they were written and the feminist agenda they consciously and/or unconsciously asserted, as well as the ongoing applicability of their themes to American culture and society today.   

Required Texts                          

Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie, Rutgers University Press

Showalter, Elaine, ed. Scribbling Women: Short Stories by 19th-Century American Women

Fanny Fern (Sara Willis), Ruth Hall and Other Writings, Rutgers University Press, or any edition of RH

Harriet Jacobs (Linda Brent), Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, any edition

Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest (collected poems), or any edition of her poems

              Kate Chopin, The Awakening (any edition)

In case you cannot find or afford any of these books, .pdfs of all required readings appear below  

Secondary Materials:

Amireh, Amal. The Factory Girl and the Seamstress: Imagining Gender and Class in Nineteenth- Century 

               American Fiction. New York, Garland, 2000.

Braxton, Joanne M. and Sharon Zuber. “Silences in Harriet 'Linda Brent' Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a 

Slave Girl. Listening to Silences: New Essays in Feminist Criticism. New York: Oxford UP 1994,146-155, Cogan, Frances. All-American Girl: The Ideal of Real Womanhood in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America.

Athens, U of Georgia P, 1989.

Crosby, Shelby L. “The Body Politic and Cultural Miscegenation in Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie; or, Early Times in the Massachusetts.  CLA Journal. Jun2011, Vol. 54 Issue 4, p337-363

Cutter, Martha. Unruly Tongue: Identity and Voice in American Women's Writing, 1850-1930. Jackson:  U of Mississippi P, 1989.

Doriani, Beth Maclay. “Black Womanhood in Nineteenth-Century America: Subversion and Self-Construction  in Two Women’s Autobiographies.” American Quarterly Vol. 43, 199-222

Fetterly, Judith. The Resisting Reader: a Feminist Approach to American Literature.

---.  Introduction to Provisions: A Reader from 19th Century American Women.

Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic: the Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination.

Howe, Susan. My Emily Dickinson. New Directions, 1985.

Larson, Jennifer. “Converting Passive Womanhood to Active Sisterhood: Agency, Power, and Subversion in

Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Women's Studies, Vol. 35 Issue 8, p739-756

Martin, Wendy. The Cambridge Guide to Emily Dickinson. Cambridge University Press, 2002. 

Sanchez, Maria. “Re-Possessing Individualism in Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall” Arizona Quarterly Vol. 56.4, 25-56.

Temple, Gale. “A Purchase on Goodness: Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall, and Fraught Individualism.” Studies in American Fiction 2003 Vol. 31.2, 131-163.

Vasquez, Mark G. “’Your Sister Cannot Speak to You and Understand You As I Do’: Native American Culture  and Female Subjectivity in Lydia Maria Child and Catherine Maria Sedgwick.” American Transcendentalist Quarterly, Sept 2001, Vol. 15, Issue 3. 

SCHEDULE     2/24                       3/3     3/10

Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women” (.pdf only)  

Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, Chapters 1 and 2 (not required—to be summarized in class)  

Early poets: Phyllis Wheatley and Anne Bradstreet (not required—excerpts to be read in class)  

Catherine Maria Sedgwick, “Cacoethes Scribendi” (Scribbling Women p. 3)  

Catherine Sedgwick, Hope Leslie (Volume 1, pages 1-169)  

Catherine Sedgwick, Hope Leslie (Volume 2)                   3/17

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, “The Angel Over the Right Shoulder” (Scribbling Women p. 17) (“hypertext”)  

Harriet Prescott Spofford, “Circumstance” (Scribbling Women p. 37)  

Speeches (not required reading—to be read in class):  Margaret Fuller, Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth  

Newspaper Columns: Fanny Fern, selections (not required: to be read in class)     3/24       3/31

Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall (novel only; no additional required reading)  

Rebecca Harding Davis, “Life in the Iron Mills” (Scribbling Women p. 51)                  

Rebecca Harding Davis, “The Wife’s Story” (.pdf only)   4/7     4/14   4/21  

Study programmes