Mr. Right

“The day seems too short for our happiness,” George Eliot writes in one of the letters included in the supplementary volumes of her correspondence, “and,” she continues, “we both of us feel that we have begun life afresh—with new ambition and new powers.” This seems to be an exact description …

Vindicating Mary Wollstonecraft

When the final word is said on Mary Wollstonecraft she will appear to us, I suspect, as one of the most powerful and distinctive prose writers in the language. The one work by which she is generally known today, her 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Woman, establishes Wollstonecraft as …

Female Gothic: Monsters, Goblins, Freaks

The first readers of Wuthering Heights were struck as we are still today by the perverse aspects of the novel. “A disagreeable story” about “painful and exceptional subjects,” said The Athenaeum, “…dwelling upon those physical acts of cruelty—the contemplation of which true taste rejects.” Much as that assessment misses—the strength, …

Female Gothic: The Monster’s Mother

What I mean by Female Gothic is easily defined: the work that women writers have done in the literary mode that, since the eighteenth century, we have called the Gothic. But what I mean—or anyone else means—by “the Gothic” is not so easily stated except that it has to do …

The Library Murder Case

The New York Public Library is one of the four greatest research libraries in the world, the newest and the most threatened. Founded three quarters of a century ago as a private institution, NYPL has long performed the kind of public service for American scholars that government libraries do in …

Women’s Liberator

In the fascinating and important new scholarly biography of Samuel Richardson by T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel, there is nothing to challenge the familiar legend of Richardson’s beginnings as a novelist—a man already fifty, a successful businessman, citizen, and family man, with nothing very special about him, …

Mrs. Stowe’s Vengeance

Why bother with Harriet Beecher Stowe? Because she is immensely readable, and because her subject was slavery. The former cause probably does more than the latter to explain Mrs. Stowe’s excellent “press.” Since her death in 1896 many fine studies of her life and work have steadily appeared; there has …

Hardy Perennial

“A desolating wind wandered from the north over the hill…” “The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom…” A solitary figure—or a van, a gig, a spring-cart, a wagon—appears upon the deserted highway, or “the pale thoroughfare,” or “the long laborious road, dry, …

Shook-up Generation

Although there is little question about the importance of the period between the Civil War and the Great War, that half-century contains the greatest hazards for the American literary historian. “Our modern literature,” Alfred Kazin pointed out twenty-five years ago, “was rooted in nothing less than the transformation of our …

The “Truth” of Mark Twain

To say that Mark Twain was more of a performer than a novelist, as his critics have said in both praise and disparagement, is to say that he was a Victorian. The theatricality of his prose, the conception of his public as an audience of responsive listeners rather than as …

Hard Times

Fate gave Dreiser a great subject which we now call juvenile delinquency. A less efficient propagandist than is generally realized, Dreiser called the problem a Tragedy, and merely an American tragedy—for, under the bluster, he was a modest artist. His sexually delinquent girls and criminally delinquent boys are his heroes …

Regency Memoirs

Perhaps suspecting that eight volumes made too large a monument to Tom Moore, Lord John Russell prefaced his 1853 edition of Moore’s Journal with a prophetic reference to the academic critical industry in America. Among those unborn English-speaking millions across the sea there would arise, as Russell put it in …