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A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 24, 2009
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A Jury of Her Peers is an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000.
In a narrative of immense scope and fascination--brimming with Elaine Showalter’s characteristic wit and incisive opinions--we are introduced to more than 250 female writers. These include not only famous and expected names (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Gwendolyn Brooks, Grace Paley, Toni Morrison, and Jodi Picoult among them), but also many who were once successful and acclaimed yet now are little known, from the early American best-selling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Susan Glaspell. Showalter shows how these writers--both the enduring stars and the ones left behind by the canon--were connected to one another and to their times. She believes it is high time to fully integrate the contributions of women into our American literary heritage, and she undertakes the task with brilliance and flair, making the case for the unfairly overlooked and putting the overrated firmly in their place.
Whether or not readers agree with the book’s roster of writers, A Jury of Her Peers is an irresistible invitation to join the debate, to discover long-lost great writers, and to return to familiar titles with a deeper appreciation. It is a monumental work that will greatly enrich our understanding of American literary history and culture.Amazon Exclusive: Elaine Showalter's Top Ten Books by American Women Writers You Haven't Read (But Should)
Everyone knows the handful of novels by American women writers, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The House of Mirth and Beloved, that make it onto standard reading lists. But there are hundreds of wonderful books by American women that have been underestimated, overlooked, or forgotten.
Here’s my starting guide to ten extraordinary works of fiction--one from each decade of the twentieth century--that deserve to be much better known.
A moving collection of stories emphasizing the California landscape and the vulnerability of women, especially Native American women who were seduced and abandoned by white men in the Wild West. The memorable final story about a mysterious woman in the desert, “The Walking Woman,” is Austin’s manifesto of female independence, equality, tenderness, and sorrow.
Gilman’s clever utopian novel imagines three American men on a scientific expedition who hear tales of a “strange and terrible Woman Land in the high distance,” and decide to find and invade it. Expecting to rule over the women, the men are astounded, entranced, and defeated by the resourcefulness of an all-female society.
Fisher was a prolific novelist, a judge for the Book of the Month Club, and a pioneer of Montessori education in the U.S. She claimed that The Home-Maker was more about children’s rights than women’s rights, but she empathized with all the members of a middle-class family whose lives are being destroyed by the straitjacket of maintaining proper male and female roles. When an accident forces the husband and wife to change places, everyone is much happier. This could be a comic premise--Mr. Mom--but Fisher treats it with seriousness and psychological insight.
Slesinger used her disillusion with the whole cultural spectrum of the 1930s for her sparkling satire of the New York leftwing editors of a radical magazine. The novel is both a penetrating autobiographical portrait of the divided woman intellectual of the decade, painfully torn between party politics and personal emancipation; and a timeless and very funny lampoon of ideologues driven by vanity, political trendiness, and competition.
Stafford was at her best in this powerful coming-of-age novel about a young brother and sister, Ralph and Molly Fawcett, who spend their summers at their grandfather’s ranch in Colorado. While Ralph is being initiated into adventurous manhood, Molly is fiercely and tragically resisting the dull femininity which lies in store for her.
The only novel by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha tells the story of a poor black Chicago housewife, in a lyrical form like that of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, but suffused with anger against racism, war, and the daily small tragedies of black women’s lives. An American classic.
Long overlooked, Jackson’s masterpiece has been rediscovered in the twenty-first century by writers from Stephen King and Jonathan Lethem to Joyce Carol Oates. A perfectly constructed and spine-chilling example of the female gothic, the novel was among the first great stories of the weird girl, part teenage outcast, part witch, as a dark heroine of American horror.
While Diane Johnson’s novels about Americans in Paris (such as Le Divorce) have been bestsellers, The Shadow Knows is my favorite among her books. Set in Northern California in the early 1970s, it is about the racial conflict and paranoia of the decade, and, in Johnson’s words, “about persons on the fringe; they happen to be women, and what happens to them is meant to be particular to America in the seventies.”
In her first novel, Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Robinson traced the lives of three generations of women in the imaginary Idaho town of Fingerbone, which is surrounded by mountains and next to a dark lake. The narrator, Ruth, and her sister, Lucille, are passed from one family caregiver to another; finally, their aunt Sylvie Fisher, a wanderer and transient, comes back to keep house for them. But Sylvie’s bizarre housekeeping is like something out of a gothic fairy tale, and the sisters find their separate ways to create their own domestic visions.
Gish Jen is one of the funniest and most free-wheeling novelists of the multicultural 90s. In Mona in the Promised Land, whose title plays off a long tradition of Jewish-American immigrant writing, the adolescent Chinese-American heroine Mona Chang is at a new stage of ethnic identity, renaming and self-creation. In their own enclave, she and her high school friends exchange food, music, games, and politics. In the promised land, American girls can change their names, their religions, even re-invent their nationalities.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
American citizens should read this book to learn how women have viewed America since 1630.
American literature students, male and female, should buy, read and refer to this book. It is an excellent teaching source; it is an engaging source to acquaint students with an entire body of little known literature.
Male and female students of writing should buy, read and refer to this book.
If Americans of all ilks believe they have read as much American literature as is available, this book will provide at least 50 novels to read.
For example, Jo Marsh of Little Women wrote books about her family, sequels to Little Women. One of those books discusses in the 1870s a woman’s wish today: “Having it all.”
An issue in the 1960s Civil Rights movement was the position of women. Not intending to be pejorative or derisive, Stockily Carmichael accurately described that position as “prone.” Doubly for Black women. Should Black women support the Civil Rights movement or the Women’s Movement? Each involved different and conflicting obligations and goals. In history, sociology and journalism there is little development and discussion of the issues. HOWEVER, black female authors raised and wrote about this issue. These books are described and discussed in Showalter’s book.
This literary history, organized chronologically over 350 years of American women's literature, makes distinctions, selections, and judgments over this often overlooked segment of American history. The title is based on the 1917 short story by Susan Glaspell called, "A Jury of Her Peers". The theme of Susan Glaspell's short story raises the moral question of how a patriarchal world can fairly judge a woman's value. In the case of "A Jury of Her Peers", a woman's guilt is in question; but Elaine Showalter then extrapolates the theme to that of the futility of women writers being judged as writers by a patriarchal world of publishers and editors.
This 500-page, very-readable history is for those who love literature--especially American literature--and even more precisely, little-known women's literature. It unfolds and reveals a rich panorama of our history. How did the author approach such a voluminous task, and what distinguishes women's literature from literature written by men? Elaine Showalter clarifies that she is not basing her distinctions or judgments on biology or any sexual differences; but, rather, on societal pressures on women over these 350 years as opposed to the pressures and roles of men. From such a broad and sometimes obscure history, the author focuses her search for women who wrote for publication as opposed to women who wrote diaries, letters, recipes, etc. She also focuses on traditional literary genres--poems, plays, and fiction as well as popular fiction, girls' books, hit plays, and satiric verses. Negotiating the task of writing as a vocation with the other daily tasks of women throughout our history is a constant challenge that runs throughout these writers' lives. And inviting us into their lives to see how they did it all was fascinating. How they all juggled their writing careers tells us something about the cultural changes constantly occurring.
This author identifies the first phase in women's writing to be analogous to all cultural history at this point; "the prolonged phase of imitation of prevailing modes..."; the phase of "protest against these modes along with its corresponding advocacy of independent rights and values"; and, third, the phase of self discovery". Or more bluntly put, "feminine, feminist, and female."
Whatever your reason for picking up this tome, you cannot help but be intrigued by all the authors names and want to rush to your community library. Susan Glaspell's story, "Jury of Her Peers," can be found on the Internet along with a few others. A truly grand accomplishment that is keeping literature alive and teaches us there is no end to learning.
This book is not only the first of its kind but is an excellent introduction to the vast scope of American women writing in the genres of fiction and poetry. Among the luminaries whose works are reviewed with fair and critical acumen by Showalter are:
Anne Bradstreet: Margaret Fuller; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Edith Wharton; Willa Cather; Gertrude Stein; Elinor Wylie; Dorothy Parker; Anne Sexton;
Sylvia Plath; Anne Tyler; Grace Metalious; Gwendolyn Brooks; Toni Morrison (who along with Pearl Buck is only one of two American women to be the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature): Alice Walker, Joan Didion; Elizabeth Bishop; Marianne Moore; Joan Didion and countless others.
Many of these writers have been lost to the historical canon. Susan Glaspell was one of these. Her play "A Jury of Her Peers" lends itself to the title of this sine qua non work of scholarship by Showalter.
One is in awe of the monumental achievement accomplished by Showalter! How could one woman read, digest and research all of these books and individuals is amazing.
This book will become a classic; should be used in all collegiate courses on American Literature and should be in the library of all persons who have an interest in feminism, good writing and the American literary tradition. Excellent and essential!