Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Reconsidered, Proposed Panel, ALA May 23-26, 2013

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Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Reconsidered

Proposed Panel for American Literature Association Conference, Boston, May 2013

In the post-bellum 19th century, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps was one of the most widely read American authors. From her series of spiritualist novels entitled The Gates Ajar to her Gypsy Brenton books, which were widely used in Sunday School classes, many of Phelps's books were commercial successes. However, her more political works were less well-received. Books like The Story of Avis, Hedged In, and Doctor Zay, while they sold reasonably well, were widely criticized by the American literary establishment. However, these books, which address many issues key to the feminist movement in the 19th century, remain relevant today. For example, The Story of Avis examines the ways marriage can, and often does, limit a woman's ability to have a successful career, while Doctor Zay considers how a woman who chooses to work in a field dominated by men (in this case, medicine) is viewed by society. As the country moved into the 20th century and as Modernism came into vogue, Phelps's books stopped selling altogether, and while she, like so many other American women writers from this period, was "rediscovered" in the late 20th century amidst the second wave of feminism, she remains on the margins of the American literary canon. Indeed, Phelps, who arguably was a key literary figure in the late-19th century, has been largely ignored by all but a few critics in the 20th and 21st century.

This proposed panel seeks to reconsider the works of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, arguing that her books respond to many of the issues that were central to the first wave of the Feminist movement. Indeed, amidst an alleged 21st century "war against women," many of the issues Phelps addressed, including the value of a career, feminine beauty, and equality in marriage, continue to be debated. Among other issues, we will explore/identify reasons, political or otherwise, why Phelps has been largely ignored in the 20th and 21st centuries, even as other women writers from the same period have been "rediscovered." Further, we will consider how she, and other equally marginalized writers, remain relevant and ripe for continued scholarship.

Please submit 300 word abstracts for this proposed panel to Miranda Green-Barteet of University of Western Ontario (mgreenb6 @ uwo.ca) by Jan. 15, 2013.
The 2013 American Literature Association Conference will be held at the Westin Copley Place in Boston, May 23-26, 2013.