Southworth's Brilliant Writing Essay

2098 words - 8 pages

Southworth's Brilliant Writing

 

Few nineteenth-century American women novelists met with success equal to that

of Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth (E.D.E.N. Southworth). Harriet Beecher

Stowe, Susan Warner, Fanny Fern, and others certainly sold record numbers of

individual novels; however, E.D.E.N. Southworth's over 40 novels consistently

became best-sellers throughout a 44-year career, making her, over time, perhaps

the best-selling author, male or female, of her generation. Her stories entered

into the American consciousness--becoming popular plays, shaping fashion trends,

developing women's visions of themselves--as well as shaped the image of

"Americanness" in the minds of international readers around the globe. In

particular, Southworth's novels taught the world a vision of the American woman

that equaled in power and influence James Fenimore Cooper's presentation of the

American man that so captured international attention. Back at home, reviewers,

critics, and other novelists either praised or rejected the immense energy of

her writing, her vision, calling her the best novelist of the age or,

conversely, attacking the unladylike exuberance of her prose or themes. Her

primacy forced the literary world to respond--either as lovers or haters.

Southworth's life trials shaped the fiction writer she became. As a woman

repeatedly placed on the margins--by poverty, neglect, social stratification,

status as an abandoned woman--Southworth learned to speak the language of the

dispossessed. In an era when debates over human rights dominated the political

and social landscape, Southworth wrote fiction celebrating strong independent

women, abolition of slavery, people who transcend or ignore class distinctions,

and persons who stand firm against oppression of any sort. When Willa Cather

visited Emma Southworth's home in 1901, she was surprised to find that the

author was "no mere mercenary"; rather, Cather recognized the drive behind the

heavy writing schedule, the late nights, the rarely-missed deadlines. Southworth

believed that fiction should serve a moral purpose, and once wrote that "The

novelist--the popular novelist--has a hundred-fold larger audience than the most

celebrated preacher, and therefore a tremendous responsibility" (DU, undated

news clipping). An examination of her life and work reveals that the author's

fight against injustice was created in the crucible of her early womanhood and

gained strength as her activist sensibilities found a medium through which to

expand. Trained in the early years as a writer for the National Era, Southworth

published her early stories in the same abolitionist newspaper in which Harriet

Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared. Her passion for social change

shaped her career, making her, indeed, "no mere mercenary"; rather, Emma

Southworth was a...

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