The Values, Ideals, and Actions of Fanny Fern
Literature from the 1820âs to the 1860âs brought attention to the expanse of the American experience and gave rise to many unique voices. Some of the best writers of this era challenged their fellow citizens to live up to the ideals that the founding fathers had written into America's sacred documents. The voices that cast these challenges are as varied and wide spread in their approach as this nation's natural boundaries are diverse. Fanny Fern (1811-1872), was one of the writers who made a big splash with her fearless unconventionality during this literary renaissance. Her masterful use of satire and her belief that the ideal of individualism should include women, gained her enormous popularity and doomed her chances of being included in the American literary canon for over a century.
Fanny Fernâs real name was Sarah Payson Willis Parton, but she used the pseudonym in all her legal affairs and with members of her family. Similar to Mark Twain in the sense that the pen names became more closely associated with the writers than their real names, Fern, like Twain, wrote satirical essays, sketches, and novels about the shortcomings of American society. For twenty-one years Fern reminded people that America needed to work on it problems with literature, education, prisons, prostitution, venereal disease, family planning, divorce, education, child rearing, and rights for women. Her unflinching, yet female perspective gained her enormous popularity. Although Fern did not completely abandon traditional womenâs topics like love, marriage, and children, the most far-reaching issues that she addressed were economic independence for women and the need for improvements in domestic life (Warren 288). As a widowed mother whose relatives griped about helping her financially, Fern experienced the struggle and hypocrisy that women without good jobs had to face. She recorded her personal experiences in a autobiographical novel titled Ruth Hall. Like the heroine in her novel, Fern overcame the poverty that her widowhood created by writing articles for local newspapers. In a Franklinian fashion she rose from rags to riches.
When Fern embarked on her writing career, she was criticized for her style and subjects. According to N.P. Willis, Fernâs brother, Fernâs writing was vulgar and·the style was noisy·(White 2037). Some of this criticism remains relevant today. Although many readers consider Fernâs style as human and spontaneous, some are bothered by all the italics, dashes, and exclamation points. Fernâs allusions can also be confusing or dated as in "Peeps from under a Parasol" (Fern 270). According to Joyce W. Warrenâs editing, "Peeps", a four and a half page essay, required nineteen explanatory notes! The majority of the criticism Fern received from her contemporaries was aimed at her behavior and voice as an "unwomanly" writer. As a woman she was·not supposed to be angry or satirical...