During the nineteenth century, women authors for the first time achieved professional status, secure income, and public fame. How did these women enter the literary profession; meet the demands of editors, publishers, booksellers, and reviewers; and achieve distinction as "women of letters"? Becoming a Woman of Letters examines the various ways women writers negotiated the market realities of authorship, and looks at the myths and models women writers constructed to elevate their place in the profession.
Drawing from letters, contracts, and other archival material, Linda Peterson details the careers of various women authors from the Victorian period. Some, like Harriet Martineau, adopted the practices of their male counterparts and wrote for periodicals before producing a best seller; others, like Mary Howitt and Alice Meynell, began in literary partnerships with their husbands and pursued independent careers later in life; and yet others, like Charlotte Brontë, and her successors Charlotte Riddell and Mary Cholmondeley, wrote from obscure parsonages or isolated villages, hoping an acclaimed novel might spark a meteoric rise to fame. Peterson considers these women authors' successes and failures--the critical esteem that led to financial rewards and lasting reputations, as well as the initial successes undermined by publishing trends and pressures.
Exploring the burgeoning print culture and the rise of new genres available to Victorian women authors, this book provides a comprehensive account of the flowering of literary professionalism in the nineteenth century.
"Peterson's study is not simply a fascinating contribution to the nineteenth-century history of authorship, it is also an interesting example of the uses of the biographical and autobiographical writings of literary figures by their creators or by other writers for the purposes of self-mythologization or the creation of gendered myths of authorship. . . . This is very much a contribution to the bigger picture on the nineteenth-century history of authorship, and a model for further scholarship in this area."--Lyn Pykett, Biography
"[T]he wealth of information contained in Becoming a Woman of Letters will be of invaluable help not only to those who want to study these individual women, but those who are interested in nineteenth century women writers as a group, and in the Victorian publishing world. Peterson's work allows us to see the importance of contextualizing whenever we consider an individual's work, for even literary geniuses who are born and bred in the wilds of the Yorkshire moors must work within the context of the market."--Christine DeVine, Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies
"Peterson's project is a stunning success. The book embodies all that we expect of criticism these days. Peterson's readings are insightful, her range of reference astounding, but it is the methods of her scholarship that seem most pertinent in making this a book we should offer as a benchmark to our students."--Laurie Langbauer, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature
"Peterson's prose is often incisive, compact, and elegant. Her generous yet deftly chosen illustrations amplify her arguments and deepen the literary and historical richness of this insightful study of Victorian women and authorship."--Cheri L. Larsen Hoeckley, Christianity and Literature
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations ix
Chapter 1: The Nineteenth-Century Profession of Letters and the Woman Author 13
Chapter 2: Inventing the Woman of Letters: Harriet Martineau in the Literary Marketplace of the 1820s and 1830s 61
Chapter 3: Working Collaboratively: Mary Howitt and Anna Mary Howitt as Women of Letters 96
Chapter 4: Parallel Currents: The Life of Charlotte Bronte as Mid-Victorian Myth of Women's Authorship 131
Chapter 5: Challenging Brontëan Myths of Authorship: Charlotte Riddell and A Struggle for Fame (1883) 151
Chapter 6: Transforming the Poet: Alice Meynell as Fin-de-Sie`cle Englishwoman of Letters 171
Chapter 7: The Woman of Letters and the New Woman: Reinventing Mary Cholmondeley 207