Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

A Guided Tour of the EWWRP Women's Genre Fiction Project

by Lillian E. Craton

date: 2005
collection: Genre Fiction

A Guided Tour of the EWWRP Women's Genre Fiction Project

Lillian E. Craton

As American and English culture gradually shifted attention from the corseted Angel in the House to the sexualized New Woman, popular fiction both documented and propelled a transformation of the imagery used to understand femininity. The works of this collection provide a window on cultural change during a period that brought women new legal rights and an ever-shifting set of ideological, technological, and vocational challenges. The project focuses on the years 1860-1920, though we have included a handful of novels from the preceding and following decades. These exceptions are texts that we feel offer useful expansion or contrast for themes central to the project's fiction. Our bookends, for instance, are two novels by the same name. Grace Aguilar's A Mother's Recompense (first published in 1850 but reprinted throughout the century) remains a classic of domestic fiction. In the preface to Edith Wharton's 1925 A Mother's Recompense , Wharton apologizes to Aguilar for appropriating the title for a novel about sexuality and mother-daughter alienation.* The project's other works offer a remarkable array of female characters, from the ever-weeping Elsie Dinsmore of Martha Finley's sentimental novels, to the cross-dressing Amazon Leona Lacoste of Florence Marryat's Her Father's Name , and an equally broad range of perspectives on love, sex, and work. If we can draw one conclusion from the novel's texts, it is the inadequacy of any simple definition of womanhood to account for the variety of images and experience we find in women's fiction.

Genre fiction by women offers a reflection of popular culture that extends beyond consideration of gender. Popular fiction documents both the frustrations of rapid social change and innovations of rapid technological expansion. Edith Barnett's Dr. and Mrs. Gold considers the anarchist movement, for example, while Ann S. Stephens and Metta Victoria Fuller Victor examine the opening of the American frontier. Lawrence Lynch's Under Fate's Wheel and C.N. and A.N. Williamson's The Princess Passes respectively consider the impact of the introduction of the bicycle and automobile on social life. The project offers a range of perspectives on American racial tension-from C. H Brown's Mammy, to Edith Davis's reformist Major Brown, or Whether White or Black a Man, to Hallie Rives's pro-lynching novel Smoking Flax . British texts span a range of perspectives on class and empire, from B. M. Croker's Indian romances to Olive Schreiner's scathing denouncement of colonial abuses in Trooper Peter Halket. Writers on both sides of the Atlantic consider the significance of interracial marriage--Maud Diver, Onoto Watanna, and Payne Erskine offer interesting examples. Browse our subject headings for a sampling of the cultural themes that recur in the project's fiction, or use the full-text search feature to track specific concepts within the collection. The subject heading "Mormonism," for instance, guides you to works that center on Mormon characters or history, while searching the word "Mormon" will unearth every use of the term throughout the full text of the project's fiction.

Literary researchers will find the project a useful tool for the study of genre formation-in addition to mysteries and romances, we include domestic fiction, sensation fiction, adventure stories, New Woman novels, ghost stories, social problem novels, military fiction, regional realism, young-adult novels, travel fiction, and more. The breadth of the project allows readers to trace the development and overlap of different genres-John Strange Winter/Henrietta Stannard's Garrison Gossip blends military and domestic themes, for instance, while Margaret Deland's The Rising Tide marries female activism to romance. You will find examples that conform to generic conventions, as well as those that defy categorization. In some cases, our texts offer a resource for the study of more canonical works-Lady Georgiana Chatterton's Compensation , for instance, is one the of the silly novels mentioned by title in George Eliot's famous essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists." The project also houses works by the kinswomen of male authors who have received greater critical attention. Anna Thackeray is the daughter of Vanity Fair's W. M. Thackeray, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes is sister to Hilaire Belloc, and Frances Eleanor Trollope is the wife of Anthony Trollope (and daughter-in-law to authoress Frances Milton Trollope). You will also find under-analyzed aesthetic treasures here-- the proofreader of Alice Brown's novels, for example, came to feel that these texts deserve a major place in the study of modernism.

This site makes no pretense of a comprehensive perspective on genre fiction-we selected our texts within the limits of Emory's Woodruff Library collection and our own practical necessities. We chose both works that seemed characteristic of a particular genre or publishing practice, like our Bertha Clay dime romances, and works that seemed relevant to research questions in the field. In some cases, we duplicate novels already available online thanks to the tireless effort of Project Gutenberg and other digital texts projects, but we believe that our searchable, research-quality texts offer a useful supplement for scholars. As you browse the collection, you will find that some authors appear under their maiden names, others under married names, and still others under pseudonyms-- we attempt to identify authors by the name scholars are most likely to associate with their works, even when that name is simply "Rita" or "The Duchess." Though the inconsistency may seem confusing, it reflects the challenges the project encountered in researching the period's publishing practices. Some authors established their reputations under multiple identities, like Annie Swan/David Lyall. Others adopted elaborate authorial personae like Marietta Holley's "Josiah Allen's Wife," Henrietta Stannard's "John Strange Winter," and Canadian-Chinese author Edith Winifred Owen's Japanese persona "Onoto Watanna." Multiple authors also published under house names like "Bertha Clay," a pen name originally adopted by Charlotte Brame for the American publications of her work, but later used by Street & Street for a series of romance novels by a variety of authors. We came to realize that the novels of J.E. Muddock (Dick Donovan), were written by a man, but we retain them as well. Please explore the site and enjoy the remarkable works of fiction collected here.


*. Wharton's A Mother's Recompense has been removed because of copyright issues.

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