Womenwriters, the popular press
and the Literary Fund, 1790–1830
MEN OF GENIUS, instead of being unproductive, as intimated by a
popular writer, are the most productive of all the classes of mankind. Their
inventions not only fix and realise themselves in some subject, and for
some time, but they direct the mode of storing and setting in motion future
industry; and instead of perishing in the performance, they are renovated
in every renewed action of a similar nature, and endure for ever in some
permanent habit, regulating the conduct, shortening the labour
The distinguished critic Professor Cheryl A. Wall (1948–2020) was the
Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers
University, New Brunswick. Her path-breaking scholarship in two highly
influential monographs, Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995)
and Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary
Tradition (2005), helped to ensure that twentieth-century Black
women writers were recognized and valued for their power, genius, and
complexity. Her most recent book, On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The
Art of the African American Essay (2018), places the essay form at
the center of African American literary achievement. Throughout her long career
she supported and enabled Black students, and championed racial diversity and
gender equality at every level of the university. An Associate Editor of
James Baldwin Review, she was the most generous and astute
of readers, as well as a wise editor. In this memorial section, fifteen
colleagues, former students, and interlocutors share their remembrances and
honor her legacy.
This article looks at Frances Burneys contribution to life writing through her
composition, preservation and curatorship of her own personal archive and
management of family papers. It charts Burneys chronic anxieties about the
possible interpretation of the record that she had created, and the tension
between self-expression and self-exposure which underlay her very revealing
difficulties with editing, archivism and publication.
‘Writing Pain’ argues that Anna Seward‘s Letters (1811) and Mary
Robinson‘s letters (1800) create alternative models of sensibility from the
suffering poet of Charlotte Smith‘s Elegiac Sonnets. Immensely
popular, Smith‘s sonnets made feminine suffering a source of poetic agency by
aestheticizing and privatizing it. However, despite their sincerity, her sonnets
effaced the physical, nervous body of sensibility on which Seward‘s and
Robinsons early poetic reputations had depended and for which they had been
mocked. The popularity of Smith‘s model made it an important model for women
poets, but, by the end of the eighteenth century, sensibility was also
associated with sickness and artifice. For Seward and Robinson, who wanted to
build their literary reputations but were living with disabled bodies, Smiths
example needed to be reimagined to account for the reciprocity of body and mind
as they struggled to write through pain.
Cruelty, Darkness and the Body in Janice Galloway, Alison Kennedy and Louise Welsh
This essay seeks to define a Gothic tendency in the ‘viscerality’ of some recent and prominent Scottish women writers: Janice Galloway, Alison Kennedy and Louise Welsh. The argument addresses an alienating tension in this ‘viscerality’ between a fabular form and the impression of a new realism of social surfaces. This is a Gothic of cruelty and violent representation of the body, which opens a Scottish urban culture, portrayed as a synecdoche for divided consciousness, to fables of sexual and political alienation.
Julia Kavanagh was a popular and internationally published writer of the mid-nineteenth century whose collective body of work included fiction, biography, critical studies of French and English women writers, and travel writing. This critically engaged study presents her as a significant but neglected writer and returns her to her proper place in the history of women's writing. Through an examination of Kavanagh's work, letters and official documents, it paints a portrait of a woman who achieved not simply a necessary economic independence, but a means through which she could voice the convictions of her sexual politics in her work. The study addresses the current enthusiasm for the reclamation of neglected women writers, and also brings to light material that might otherwise have remained unknown to the specialist.
Wallace explores nineteenth-century ghost stories written by Elizabeth Gaskell, and later tales by May Sinclair, and Elizabeth Bowen. Using ideas drawn from Modleski and Irigaray she argues that such tales explore how a patriarchal culture represses/buries images of the maternal. She further argues that the ghost story enabled women writers to evade the marriage plots which dominated the earlier Radcliffean Female Gothic, meaning that they could offer a more radical critique of male power, violence and predatory sexuality than was possible in either the realist, or indeed Gothic, novel. Wallace argues that the ghost story functions as the ‘double’ or the ‘unconscious’ of the novel, giving form to what has to be repressed in the longer, more ‘respectable’ form.
Fantasy and the supernatural are everyday expressions of the imaginative experiences of Malaysian and Singaporean women writers who use the Gothic to explore and expose the contradictions within their societies, constraints upon peoples lives, and most specifically, womens roles. In tales of wealthy families and their bondmaids, growing up, investment, education, marriages, the supernatural and fantasy run everywhere alongside realistic factual accounts to critique contradictions, and highlight little ironies, some of which have been generated by or supported by the,colonial presence, and some of which emanate from their own cultural traditions. Many cultural and individual contradictions are generated by recognition of the need to simultaneously maintain what is valuable in tradition, benefit from what was brought by colonialism, and move on to create new ways of being. Through the gaps and fissures of colonial homes and those of grand Chinese or Malay families leak tales of repression and silencing legitimated by cultural, economic and gendered differences. The repressed return, as they do in all good Gothic tales, to bring cultural and personal discrepancies to the notice of the living.
This essay examines a particular kind of female Gothic. Seizing the moment at which features of Gothic form had become sufficiently established to become part of a cultural inheritance, some twentieth-century women writers, we argue, created comic Gothic fictions that extended the boundaries of potential feminine identity. Stella Gibbon‘s Cold Comfort Farm pits an Austen sensibility against a rural Radcliffean scenario and proceeds to parody both as literary ancestors of a contemporary narrative of femininity. Fay Weldon‘s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983) also appropriates aspects of Gothic to spin a darkly comic tale of literary and literally constructed ‘woman’. The essay also looks at the Canadian novel published a year earlier, Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, which engages playfully with the relationship between Gothic writing and the feminine. Such texts constitute a challenge to the grand récit of gender difference, a challenge that has yet to be recognized fully by feminist critics many of whom have concentrated their energies on the feminist pursuit of life-writing. Female writers of comic Gothic, however, confront the stuff of patriarchy‘s nightmares and transform it into fictions of wry scepticism or celebratory anarchy. Through parody as ‘repetition with critical difference’, the boundaries of gender difference are destabilized in the service of creating different possibilities for female subjectivity. In their resistance both to tragic closure and their recasting of the fears of patriarchal society from a feminine perspective, such texts transform a literature of terror into a literature of liberation.