Finished April 13
A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter
This overview of American women writers covers the entire history of the topic from the beginnings of the country to the end of the twentieth century. Showalter includes more than 250 women writers in her commentary from poets to dramatists to short story writers and novelists. She touches on not only the obvious issues of gender, but also race, class, and politics.
The book is arranged chronologically with authors reappearing in different chapters as their writing carries over multiple time frames. As the book gets closer to the present, the time frames shorten to decades. Showalter looks at the writing in its context, examining the personal lives of the writers, how their experiences shaped their writing and their lives, and how outside forces reacted to their writing. Some drew support from male writers of their time, while others did not. Some flourished economically but not critically. Some did well at the time of writing and grew less significant in following years, others didn't do well during their lives, but became more valued later. Some had to sacrifice their preferences in the type of writing they wanted to do due to the pressures of economics, family situations, or prejudice.
There were a lot of writers I had never heard of, but also many that I've heard of but never read (some of them I've even got the books on my shelves!) And of course ones I've read and loved, or read and not loved. This book will help to guide some of my future reading.
Showalter gives us a history but also includes some criticism here, occasionally making clear her own views on the writers' works, and the reasoning behind those views.
The title is taken from a short story that was adapted from a play. The author, Susan Glaspell was a journalist who covered a murder case where a woman was accused of murdering her husband, and then was so fascinated by the case that she developed it into both a play and a short story. When the county attorney and sheriff go to the house to gather information, their wives accompany them and looking through a woman's eyes make their own discoveries and decisions about her actions. Of course, real juries at the time of the case, 1917, didn't include women and the link is made in this book from legal juries to literary juries. Glaspell won a Pulitzer Prize in 1931 and yet didn't rate inclusion in literary overviews even at her death nearly 20 years later. Questions are raised by the question of "peer" and what that means both legally and in a literary sense.What judgments have been made about the subject matter women chose to address in their writing at various times is discussed as is the change over time to the situation today where a woman writer can, without judgment choose any subject she wishes to write about.
A work leading to reflection, more reading, and thoughtful response.