"Stop a moment. I am going to be honest. This is what I want you to do. I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me - here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear a story." Life in the Iron Mills
shocked the Atlantic Monthly
readership when it was published in 1861. It tells the story of Hugh Wolfe, a desperately poor worker in the iron mills, and his cousin Deb, who steals money so that Hugh might have a chance to become an artist. The anonymous narrator of the story is merciless, intent upon showing her readers life at the bottom, complete with drunkenness, rotten food, and slimy hovels. Hugh Wolfe's life is a daily as well as archetypal tragedy, grabbing at the hearts and stomachs of its readers, and Rebecca Harding Davis captures his life in prose that combines outrage, spirituality, and nightmare. Again and again, she demands compassion and action; the solution she sees lies not only in working-class leadership but in businessmen coming to see their workers as human beings with hearts and souls. It is a courageous, hypnotic story; appropriately enough, its republication in 1972, the first of the Feminist Press rediscovered classics series, helped mobilize a movement toward the reprinting of neglected works by American women. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14
. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister
About the Author
Activist and author Tillie Olsen is best known for her prize-winning fiction Tell Me a Riddle and Yonnondio: From the Thirties. She has taught at MIT, Stanford, and Amherst. Olsen is an recipient of an Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Literature from the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters.