full name / name of organization:
Melissa J. Homestead, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Southworth was one of the most popular novelists of the 19th-century, and her career was extraordinarily long -- she actively produced fiction for nearly forty years. However, her works and career have received relatively little attention from late 20th and early 21st century scholars, considerably less than some other 19th-century women novelists, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and Fanny Fern. Furthermore, the majority of published scholarly work has focused on a single novel, The Hidden Hand. This edited collection will both remedy this deficiency and attract further attention to Southworth and her place in literary history. We anticipate that the introduction and essays in the volume will address the following issues and questions.
*Sentimentality and domesticity have been key terms in the scholarship on 19th-century women’s fiction. Are these terms relevant to most of Southworths’ works? What other critical categories, such as gothic or sensational, are more useful in reading Southworth’s work?
*The Hidden Hand made such a splash when reprinted by the Rutgers American Women Writers Series in 1988 because of Capitola, its tomboy-ish, cross-dressing heroine, who appealed to late 20th-century feminist sensibilities. More recently, critics have also focused on the racial politics of The Hidden Hand. How does broadening our focus beyond The Hidden Hand help us to better understand the evolution of Southworth’s thinking on gender, race, and sexuality?
*Throughout her career, Southworth’s ficiton appeared in high-circulation “family” periodicals. How might paying attention the range of Southworth’s fiction help to dislodge persistent notions of the muting or silencing of questions about gender, race, and sexuality in the Victorian family parlor?
*Critics such as Paul Jones and Bettina Entzminger have productively read Southworth in the context of Southern literary history, but the regional identities of Southworth’s texts and Southworth herself are complex. Furthermore, white Southern women writers whose careers began before the Civil War have proven relatively resistant to recovery. What are the regional affiliations of Southworth and her works? How did these regional affiliations position her in relation to regional and national audiences and in relation to debates over the place of slavery in the national union?
*In addition to her multifarious regional affiliations, Southworth lived in England, where her work was also very popular, and many of her novels feature scenes and characters from Europe and the Caribbean and evidence her reading of British and continental European literature. How might the developing field of transatlantic literary studies illuminate Southworth’s works and career?
*Southworth serialized all of her novels before publication, most notably in the New-York Ledger, but also in the National Era, the Saturday Evening Post, Peterson’s Magazine, and in England in the London Journal. Christopher Looby has recently considered the politics of The Hidden Hand as serialized in the Ledger, but much work remains to be done on Southworth and serialization.
*Southworth presents a number of complex bibliographical challenges, both because of serialization and because she and her publishers often retitled and revised her novels. What bibliographical, textual, and publishing history work remains to be done? How might discoveries concerning, for instance, Southworth’s revisions of her work reframe our understanding of her approach to the craft of fiction, her sense of her authorial vocation, and her politics?
*Although a significant portion of Southworth’s correspondence with her editors has been preserved, most of her surviving family and personal letters date from very late in her life. Thus many of the details of her earlier life, and in particular her marriage, remain a mystery. What biographical mysteries remain to be solved, and how might they be solved? What are the consequences of a more accurate biography for interpreting her works and locating her in literary history?
*Southworth’s long and productive career made her a celebrity, and her works recirculated in various forms in popular culture. However, scholars have done little beyond refer to undocumented anecdotes about the “rage” for Capitola, the heroine of The Hidden Hand. What is there to learn about Southworth’s place in popular culture, including both the circulation of Southworth herself as a celebrity and adaptations of plots and characters from her works (e.g. stage adaptations, use of characters’ names on consumer goods)? Did Southworth and her works circulate in the low or the high zones of 19th-century culture, or in the emerging middle? Can recovering Southworth’s circulation in 19th-century culture help us to better understand her fate in 20th-century culture, with the rise of academic literary studies?
Please submit papers no longer than10,000 words using the Chicago style of citation (the word limit includes notes) no later than August 15, 2009. E-mail submissions to the editors are preferred: send to Melissa at email@example.com, or Pam at firstname.lastname@example.org. A significant portion of the essays will derive from a symposium on Southworth’s works held at the American Antiquarian Society in April 2009, but we will also consider work by other scholars. Essays that cover issues, texts, and approaches not addressed at the symposium are particularly encouraged. We welcome e-mail queries before submission about proposed essay topics.