There was, in the nineteenth century, a distinction made between
"writers" and "authors," Susan S. Williams notes, the former
defined as those who composed primarily from mere experience or
observation rather than from the unique genius or imagination of
the latter. If women were more often cast as writers than authors
by the literary establishment, there also emerged in magazines,
advice books, fictional accounts, and letters a specific model of
female authorship, one that valorized "natural" feminine traits
such as observation and emphasis on detail, while also representing
the distance between amateur writing and professional
Attending to biographical and cultural contexts and offering fresh
readings of literary works, Reclaiming Authorship focuses
on the complex ways writers such as Maria S. Cummins, Louisa May
Alcott, Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Abigail Dodge, Elizabeth Stuart
Phelps, and Constance Fenimore Woolson put this model of female
authorship into practice. Williams shows how it sometimes
intersected with prevailing notions of male authorship and
sometimes diverged from them, and how it is often precisely those
moments of divergence when authorship was reclaimed by women.
The current trend to examine "women writers" rather than "authors"
marks a full rotation of the circle, and "writers" can indeed be
the more capacious term, embracing producers of everything from
letters and diaries to published books. Yet certain
nineteenth-century women made particular efforts to claim the title
"author," Williams demonstrates, and we miss something of
significance by ignoring their efforts.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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