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A Jury of Her Peers is an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000. In a narrative of immense scope and fascination—brimming with Elaine Showalter’s characteristic wit and incisive opinions—we are introduced to more than 250 female writers. These include not only famous and expected names (Harriet Beecher S A Jury of Her Peers is an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000. In a narrative of immense scope and fascination—brimming with Elaine Showalter’s characteristic wit and incisive opinions—we are introduced to more than 250 female writers. These include not only famous and expected names (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Gwendolyn Brooks, Grace Paley, Toni Morrison, and Jodi Picoult among them), but also many who were once successful and acclaimed yet now are little known, from the early American best-selling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Susan Glaspell. Showalter shows how these writers—both the enduring stars and the ones left behind by the canon—were connected to one another and to their times. She believes it is high time to fully integrate the contributions of women into our American literary heritage, and she undertakes the task with brilliance and flair, making the case for the unfairly overlooked and putting the overrated firmly in their place. Whether or not readers agree with the book’s roster of writers, A Jury of Her Peers is an irresistible invitation to join the debate, to discover long-lost great writers, and to return to familiar titles with a deeper appreciation. It is a monumental work that will greatly enrich our understanding of American literary history and culture.


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A Jury of Her Peers is an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000. In a narrative of immense scope and fascination—brimming with Elaine Showalter’s characteristic wit and incisive opinions—we are introduced to more than 250 female writers. These include not only famous and expected names (Harriet Beecher S A Jury of Her Peers is an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000. In a narrative of immense scope and fascination—brimming with Elaine Showalter’s characteristic wit and incisive opinions—we are introduced to more than 250 female writers. These include not only famous and expected names (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Gwendolyn Brooks, Grace Paley, Toni Morrison, and Jodi Picoult among them), but also many who were once successful and acclaimed yet now are little known, from the early American best-selling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Susan Glaspell. Showalter shows how these writers—both the enduring stars and the ones left behind by the canon—were connected to one another and to their times. She believes it is high time to fully integrate the contributions of women into our American literary heritage, and she undertakes the task with brilliance and flair, making the case for the unfairly overlooked and putting the overrated firmly in their place. Whether or not readers agree with the book’s roster of writers, A Jury of Her Peers is an irresistible invitation to join the debate, to discover long-lost great writers, and to return to familiar titles with a deeper appreciation. It is a monumental work that will greatly enrich our understanding of American literary history and culture.

30 review for A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is a really great book. Elaine Showalter claims to have written the first comprehensive overview of American women writers, and as I love and trust Dr. Showalter, I have no reason at all not to believe her. First of all: Elaine Showalter is married. To a man. Yes, yes, I was disappointed too, but if we can't sweep her off her feet and spirit her away to live in our castle, at least we might enjoy her engaging critical history of important lady authors from the Pilgrims' day until now! Dry yo This is a really great book. Elaine Showalter claims to have written the first comprehensive overview of American women writers, and as I love and trust Dr. Showalter, I have no reason at all not to believe her. First of all: Elaine Showalter is married. To a man. Yes, yes, I was disappointed too, but if we can't sweep her off her feet and spirit her away to live in our castle, at least we might enjoy her engaging critical history of important lady authors from the Pilgrims' day until now! Dry your tears, gang, and go purchase this highly attractive and well-designed book. Please don't be shy! I've never read anything like this before, and I know it sounds boring, but it isn't at all. Elaine Showalter is awesome and fun. She is totally not that Women's Studies chick in your dorm, with the Ani Difranco CDs and "Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History" button and no sense of humor. She is cool and brilliant, and did all this great research! You will learn all about what it was like to be a lady writer in many different eras, and you will be spurred by productive guilt into reading many previously neglected works of American literature! (And also George Eliot. Oh God. Why haven't we read Middlemarch? What's wrong with us? Are we willfully ignorant? We should be killed.) I learned two main things from this book, one of which I already kind of knew, and that's that Being a Woman is Hard and Whew! It Used to be Way a Lot Harder (yeah, I'd heard that before; you probably did too). The other thing I really took away from this is that being a Writer is pretty tough too, which is not something I ever really gave much thought to. I always sort of assumed that if you were a writer you could basically loll around munching bonbons and watching novels come out of you, and that everyone would love the things you wrote, and give your prizes and presents. It turns out there's a lot more to it than that -- struggles, effort, tireless self-promotion, breakdowns, institutionalization, etc., etc.... So maybe it's a good thing I never pursued my childhood dream of becoming an American Woman Writer, because it sounds like a whole lot of work, and not all glamourous like how I thought. Actually, it's worse when it's glamorous somehow, because that seems to be where the alcoholism, illegal abortions, and suicide come in.... but I'm getting ahead of myself! I guess what I'm saying is, a particular interest in female writers isn't a prerequisite, as I think anyone who's interested in writers and writing could get a kick out of this book, which presents such great portraits of these writers' lives and careers. However, I definitely do recommend this book to anyone who, like me, broke down into helpless feminine hysterics at the part of A Room of One's Own where Virginia Woolf starts talking about Shakespeare's sister. Oh God! It makes me start misting up when I just think about that! The lives in this book are overwhelmingly marked by tragedy and lost opportunities. A lot of the loss does have to do with these authors' gender, but many also come from early deaths or the inability of the writers to manage successfully aspects of their lives, or their literary efforts. Showalter is definitely judging these writers, and evaluating their work to explain how, in her view, they succeeded or failed. I guess this is what they call "criticism," and it's funny stuff because it's so subjective yet stated as fact, but Showalter makes sense, and is a great stylist who's pure pleasure to read. I myself am hoping some people on here read her section on Gertrude Stein, so we can all gather around and throw poop at each other.... Anyway, I really did enjoy this. It's fun to write your own little American Woman Writer biography in your head as you read (e.g., Dead Flamingo Jessica was born in a coalmining town/crumbling mansion/Arizona subdivision into a family of morphine addicts/Deadheads/nuclear physicists/jerks. Crippled by shyness/tuberculosis/existential dread, she never married/left the house/worked a day in her life. Throughout her unhappy career, Jessica struggled to craft the Great American novel/epic poem/Onion article that would bring her the recognition she so desperately craved. However, she ultimately was unable to negotiate between her literary ambitions and duties to her invalid twin/demanding social work job/autistic children/untalented philandering playwright husband. Despite extensive ECT/yoga classes/antibiotic therapy, Jessica died at age thirty of cirrhosis/syphilis/emphysema/a broken heart, leaving only her diary/a sonnet/rambling online book reports. She is buried in Potters Field/Arlington/Père Lachaise in an unmarked grave.). For me, the book fell apart a little at the end, which makes sense because it's sort of a history, and you can't really write history about now because it hasn't finished happening yet. The newer writers' summaries felt a bit strange, maybe in part because Showalter didn't want to delve into the dirty laundry of E. Annie Proulx, who she probably runs into sometimes at conferences and things. Also, the ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead ending -- "Now women can write about whatever they want, and there's no more oppression and everyone loves them, because men don't read anymore anyway!" -- felt a little too tidy, even if it's kind of true. Anyway, though, this was great. I loved it. Showalter doesn't seem to have many axes to grind, but one is with the feminist critics of yesteryear who went back and reclaimed this old stuff, who just said it's all great because it's by girls. I took her to say there was a time when we needed that, but the time is passed, and now we should be critical. Showalter is, and it's good stuff to read. One caveat: I liked the parts about writers I wasn't familiar with more than the parts about writers I knew, so someone who knows more about American women writers than I do might not find this as exciting as I did. Although, if you happen to be into these writers, it seems you'd have even more of an interest in reading this book. I actually sort of think almost anyone with an interest in American fiction would be better off having and reading this book. You might even just use it as a reference, but it's so readable I bet you'd get through it all without meaning to.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    This survey of American women writers is quite the accomplishment. I am in awe of Showalter’s ability to synthesize material and research ranging from the 17th through the 20th centuries. This book would be of use as ‘merely’ a reference book; but I read it cover to cover, and enjoyed every bit of it, from the information about the writers I did know to the plenty I didn’t. Showalter’s aim is to put into the historical record worthy women writers who have been left out of literary history and to This survey of American women writers is quite the accomplishment. I am in awe of Showalter’s ability to synthesize material and research ranging from the 17th through the 20th centuries. This book would be of use as ‘merely’ a reference book; but I read it cover to cover, and enjoyed every bit of it, from the information about the writers I did know to the plenty I didn’t. Showalter’s aim is to put into the historical record worthy women writers who have been left out of literary history and to illustrate the developments over time that have allowed women writers to be distinguished as ‘merely’ writers. She succeeds. After reading this over several months, though I didn’t plan it, I finished it yesterday, which happened to be International Women’s Day.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Online

    SOMETIMES A PEN IS JUST A PEN Jennifer Cognard-Black Review of A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx By Elaine Showalter Knopf Authors breed books. Like mothers, they grow and nurture their creations. Yet the word author is derived from the Latin auctor and actually means a male begetter, or father. As authors Sarah Gilbert and Susan Gubar famously claimed in their 1979 book Madwoman in the Attic, a study of Victorian women writers, a “pen is in some sense… SOMETIMES A PEN IS JUST A PEN Jennifer Cognard-Black Review of A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx By Elaine Showalter Knopf Authors breed books. Like mothers, they grow and nurture their creations. Yet the word author is derived from the Latin auctor and actually means a male begetter, or father. As authors Sarah Gilbert and Susan Gubar famously claimed in their 1979 book Madwoman in the Attic, a study of Victorian women writers, a “pen is in some sense… a penis.” The presumption that authorship is fundamentally masculine has affected Anglo American women since the 17th century, when a writer such as Anne Bradstreet, the first woman to publish a book in the New World, needed the authorization of male patrons. Modern critics also have struggled to legitimate their interest in women writers. As Elaine Showalter detailed three decades ago in A Literature of Their Own—her groundbreaking study of British women novelists—“It has been difficult for critics to consider… women’s literature theoretically because of their tendency to project and expand their own culture-bound stereotypes of femininity, and to see in women’s writing an eternal opposition of biological and aesthetic creativity.” Now Showalter seeks to extend this earlier work to compile what she herself dubs “the first literary history of American women writers.” A Jury of Her Peers participates in the tradition of recovering and reclaiming women writers omitted from histories, studies and anthologies of American literature. Drawing on past recovery projects, she provides a breathtaking overview of the intersections of gender and genre in American letters, including discussions of lesser-known writers such as Mary Rowlandson, who, after being abducted by Narragansett Indians, wrote the first “captivity narrative” of the Puritan era; Frances E. W. Harper, who published Iola Leroy, one of the the first novels by an African American woman; Ursula Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and a pioneer of American science-fiction writing; and Gish Jen, a contemporary writer interested in portraying the hybrid identities of Asian American characters. Yet Showalter’s desire is to move beyond stockpiling the poetry, plays and fiction of American women to a place of thoughtful and active critique. Instead of simply asking, “Remember these writers?” she further queries, “And are these writers any good?” Showalter refuses to be either an unthinking cheerleader or an apolitical critic. Of past discomfort over Harriet Beecher Stowe’s racial stereotypes and melodramatic style, she contends, “The critical neglect of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has less to do with its alleged literary flaws [or:] its racial politics…than with its awkward placement in…a period where the American literary canon was perceived as exceptionally narrow, strong and male.” With its frank assessments, impressive research and expansive scope, A Jury of Her Peers belongs on the shelf of any reader interested in the development of women’s writing in America. Unlike the authors of other feminist literary histories, Showalter treats the pen as just a pen—to be wielded well or badly, with ignorance or insight, regardless of the gender of the writer who holds it. --- JENNIFER COGNARD-BLACK, a professor of English and coordinator of the women, gender and sexuality program at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, is coeditor of Kindred Hands: Letters on Writing by British and American Women Authors, 1865–1935 (University of Iowa Press, 2006).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kaion

    On the last page of A Jury of Her Peers, Showalter says, "We need literary history, critical judgments, even a literary canon, as a necessary step toward doing the fullest justice to women's writing." In the five hundred plus pages before this, Showalter does nothing more and nothing less, offering something of a whirlwind survey through 250 years of American literary history (one decade at a time), giving each author featured a brief biography before delving into an analysis of her work. The exh On the last page of A Jury of Her Peers, Showalter says, "We need literary history, critical judgments, even a literary canon, as a necessary step toward doing the fullest justice to women's writing." In the five hundred plus pages before this, Showalter does nothing more and nothing less, offering something of a whirlwind survey through 250 years of American literary history (one decade at a time), giving each author featured a brief biography before delving into an analysis of her work. The exhaustive approach means that Peers probably works better as a reference once you've read all the authors/books that Showalter has mentioned than it does as a straight read on its own. Fair warning: it also means this is a book that will easily add 50+ to your to-be-read pile. (see below) Showalter is definitely not shy about evaluating the work of these female writers, and the length of Peers is offset by the clarity of her judgments. In particular, she's most interested in how female writers have approached the conundrum of being a woman and being an artist, and such often leans more on biography than I might prefer. If I quibble with some of her inclusions/exclusions, the truth is A Jury of Her Peers is invaluable just for providing a "canon" to quibble with. Rating: 4 stars ___________ A not-so-brief reading list from A Jury of Her Peers: 1. The New World ~Anne Bradstreet (1650) *Mary Rowlandson - Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of... (1682) ~Phyllis Wheatley (1773) Catharine Marie Sedgwick - Hope Leslie (1827) Lydia Maria Child - Hobomok (1824) 2. The Fiction Market Laura Bullard - Christine (1856) EDEN Southworth - The Hidden Hand (1859) HP Spofford - "Circumstances" (1860) Fanny Fern - Ruth Hall (1855) 3. Civil War ~Harriet Beecher Stowe - Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856) Harriet Jacobs - Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) Julia Ward Howe - Passion-flowers (1854), "Battle Hymn of the Republic" ~Emily Dickinson 4. First Wave *Rebecca Harding Davis - "Life in the Iron Mills" (1861) Elizabeth Stuart Phelps - "The Tenth of January" (1868) ~Louisa May Alcott - Little Women (1868), Work (1873) Sarah Orne Jewett - The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) Mary Wilkins Freeman - "A New England Nun" (1891), "Old Woman Magoun", "Noblesse" 5. New Women Pauline Hopkins - Of One Blood (1902) *Charlotte Gilman Perkins - "The Yellow Wallpaper" *Kate Chopin - The Awakening (1899) Mary Austin - The Land of Little Rain (1903) ~Amy Lowell - "Patterns" 7. Moderns and Misfits ~Edna St. Vincent Millay Dorothy Canfield Fisher - The Home-Maker (1924) *Nella Larsen - Quicksand and Passing (1928) Tess Slesinger - The Unpossessed (1934) Carson McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) Ann Petry - The Street (1940) ~Gwendolyn Brooks - "A Street in Bronzeville" (1945), etc 8. Dark Age ~Anne Sexton Shirley Jackson - We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) Mary McCarthy - The Group (1963) 9. Second Wave Adrienne Rich ~Alice Walker - In Love And Trouble (1973) James Tiptree Jr. - "The Last Flight of Dr. Ain" (1969), "The Woman Men Don't See"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Renata

    I was just reminded of this amazing book (and yes, I was amazed over and over again as I read, and have reread it) and its endlessly informative and thought-provoking descriptions of American women writers from our earliest beginnings to pretty much the present. Dr.Showalter is a thoroughly engaging writer as well as a preeminent scholar. She is also a fabulous speaker and it was at a literary conference where I first had the good fortune to hear her speak. My friends and I looked at each other I was just reminded of this amazing book (and yes, I was amazed over and over again as I read, and have reread it) and its endlessly informative and thought-provoking descriptions of American women writers from our earliest beginnings to pretty much the present. Dr.Showalter is a thoroughly engaging writer as well as a preeminent scholar. She is also a fabulous speaker and it was at a literary conference where I first had the good fortune to hear her speak. My friends and I looked at each other in shocked amazement when, early in her speech, Dr Showalter told us that hers "is the first literary history of American women writers ever written." How could this be after all the work of feminists in the 70's and 80's, with all the intelligent curiosity of scholarly young women throughout our universities? Showalter's introduction is alone worth the price of the book. However, what a loss for any thoughtful reader to miss the journey she takes readers through the literary history of America. Within that context she tells fabulous stories of how women dealt with the obstacles in their paths and were both helped and hindered by their families. I felt continually amazed at the stamina, strength, and resolve of the women authors during the 1800's with their "courageous activities on behalf of abolition and Native Americans" and "resistance to patriarchal tyranny." How they could publish children's magazines, poetry, novels, essays, and still manage to maintain their households as Lydia Marie Child reported in 1864: Cooked 360 dinners Cooked 362 dinners Swept and dusted sitting-room and kitchen 350 times Filled lamps 362 times Swept and dusted chamber and stairs 40 times Besides innumerable jobs too small to To be mentioned. The book also contains its share of comical ?? stories such as when Walt Whitman refused to repay a loan from one of his most ardent writer friends and supporters, Fanny Fern, who in great ire burned her copy of Leaves of Grass and he retaliated in great wrath ... Showalter writes chapters on each decade, eg The1950's: Three Faces of Eve starting with a representative piece of literature and commentary on the social, cultural, political climate of the time. The chapters are then further divided into sections featuring other authors with descriptions of their life and their work. She has a wonderful narrative style and yet cited enough academic references to lend balance and multiple perspectives. I have read sections of this book multiple times, and other sections remain to be discovered. What I have found is I rarely pick this book up without getting lost for an hour or more. I highly recommend this book to any reader who has had cause to puzzle over how authors reflect the times in which they lived and how their writing in turn reflects our efforts at understanding both that time and our human condition. Showalter ends her introduction by writing, "Although I am aware that literary judgements are subjective, and that they reflect critical tastes and temporal values rather than established eternal and unchanging monuments of excellence, I still believe that such judgements are part of the ongoing arguments of culture which need to be shared and made public." Is this not part of that great dialogue that we readers here at Good Reads aspire to ? Now I'm thrilled Showalter has published a new book which, naturally, I learned of from a GR friend!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    One of the more comprehensive books of its kind. I have a more mixed reaction to it than the 4 stars indicates but I think it's an important work and well worth reading. On the plus side, Showalter introduces readers to women writers that I for one have never run across before. There are short biographies and descriptions of their work, which are also useful. The book design is also quite outstanding, and it supports Showalter's style so well that reading this book is a pleasure, despite its siz One of the more comprehensive books of its kind. I have a more mixed reaction to it than the 4 stars indicates but I think it's an important work and well worth reading. On the plus side, Showalter introduces readers to women writers that I for one have never run across before. There are short biographies and descriptions of their work, which are also useful. The book design is also quite outstanding, and it supports Showalter's style so well that reading this book is a pleasure, despite its size. On the down side, there are many vignettes which end on a negative note, which makes for a frustrating read. It seems like you're getting rushed through a writer's life and career to her death with very little time to process it all. Dorothy Parker, for instance, contributes an entire chapter title, then gets 2-3 paragraphs focusing on alcoholism, failed relationships and death, almost nothing about her work. Showalter also doesn't appear to see genre - almost no romance, very little sf/f (Tiptree and LeGuin, Russ in passing) and no mystery writers that I can recall except Highsmith. Contemporary lesbian/bi/queer women don't get much mention, though Showalter does have a weird posthumous vendetta against Gertrude Stein. That said, this is an important book. Her final points about women becoming the judges and gatekeepers of literature, "the jury of her peers," are quite poignant given that Publisher's Weekly 100 Best Books of 2009 and the 2009 National Book Awards both epically failed to recognize women's writing, even with women on the juries. If this book helps to bring about a sea change in the attitude toward "women's writing," as being automatically inferior, it will have done its work. I'm looking forward to some new reading adventures, so thanks for that, Dr. Showalter.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Harker US Library

    Ours is a young nation, and its literature is a young literature. But in A Jury of Her Peers: American Women’s Writing from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, feminist scholar Elaine Showalter profiles the enormous amount of progressive, boundary-pushing material that’s come out of America since the days of the Pilgrims. The writers featured in this encyclopedic book—more of a literary reference guide than a readable chronological account, although a few chapters are marked exceptions—tend to weig Ours is a young nation, and its literature is a young literature. But in A Jury of Her Peers: American Women’s Writing from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, feminist scholar Elaine Showalter profiles the enormous amount of progressive, boundary-pushing material that’s come out of America since the days of the Pilgrims. The writers featured in this encyclopedic book—more of a literary reference guide than a readable chronological account, although a few chapters are marked exceptions—tend to weigh toward the nineteenth century, with novelists like Harriet Beecher Stowe getting far more individual attention than the more modern women writers whose names come to mind when we think back on American literature. Civil War–era authors like Catherine Sedgwick may be in more dire need of recognition than better-known writers, but, with familiar names like Dorothy Parker and Flannery O’Connor on their way a few chapters later, it’s hard for the reader to stay invested in the dustier, more distant history of these early chapters. The core of the book is a long, engaging, and appealingly written dual portrait of Wharton and Cather. If Showalter had adopted this storytelling mode for the rest of the book, A Jury of Her Peers would have been not just informative but enjoyable, too. - Andrew R. '17

  8. 5 out of 5

    Russell

    It is hard to review a book that really is only a literary history of women in American Literature. All I will say is, I learned a lot. I did find some of the sections that were used to create a history too long. And some of the authors that were focused on, are forgotten for a reason. But I did get introducted to a number of terms and time periods of American Lit. I was not aware of. My biggest issue was with the moder women. I am a huge fan of a lot of them - Toni Morrison being one of my favor It is hard to review a book that really is only a literary history of women in American Literature. All I will say is, I learned a lot. I did find some of the sections that were used to create a history too long. And some of the authors that were focused on, are forgotten for a reason. But I did get introducted to a number of terms and time periods of American Lit. I was not aware of. My biggest issue was with the moder women. I am a huge fan of a lot of them - Toni Morrison being one of my favorites. But did not feel like this section was as well planned or executed as the sections on the past. There are a lot of women doing great work right now - but is Amy Tan really one of them. I thought it was refreshing to see Annie Proluex(sorry about spelling), but wonder if there was enough focus on women who will be read in the future. Overall, this is a great book to introduce a person to the history of American Women and what they worked through to get to today. And I need to follow up on some Wharton and Cather - because I did not realize how important they were to the overall cannon. Watch out book club, here I come.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This was a very readable discussion of American women's writing from the beginning through the '70s. I really loved most of it, although it helped that I was on an early American women's writing kick just a couple of years ago. Starting around the 1840s, the book generally covers the subject decade by decade, sometimes pegging writers into the most fitting decade and sometimes (more as the book goes on) revisiting them later. There's a good analysis of the writers (up until the middle of the 20t This was a very readable discussion of American women's writing from the beginning through the '70s. I really loved most of it, although it helped that I was on an early American women's writing kick just a couple of years ago. Starting around the 1840s, the book generally covers the subject decade by decade, sometimes pegging writers into the most fitting decade and sometimes (more as the book goes on) revisiting them later. There's a good analysis of the writers (up until the middle of the 20th century), which tends to explain how they were received, why they are important, and how good the author thinks they are. This breaks down somewhat in the more recent periods, understandably, of course, but I wasn't convinced that the choices for her focus in the later periods necessarily made sense, perhaps because our taste is not the same, who knows. It really was an entertaining and informative book, both fun to read and a great source of ideas for additional books to read, however, so I'm quite glad I read it and will be revisiting it for sure.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Four and a half, really. It took me awhile to finish this but it was worth it. The book is broad in scope and very readable. As with any undertaking of this size, there will be quibbles about specific authors, but it all leads to great conversations about books, so that's what's most important. I've started a TBR list from it to begin next year. I would have liked a bibliography included.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    Four stars for having written with it, even though I didn't always agree with the perspective. (Often, points given for appropriate political perspectives rather than for great writing and characterization.) Depressing that England has so many 'greater' women writers than Americans.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephany Wilkes

    I did it! I finished the whole tome last night. This book was published in 2009 and it's the first anthology of American women writers. Just saying. Having attended an all-girls high school that did a fair job of highlighting the contributions of women in various subjects, and having obtained a Women's Studies certificate in college, I didn't think that so much in this book would be new to me. Oh, it was - and I gained a huge to-read list of women writers that I've been plowing through since. I'd n I did it! I finished the whole tome last night. This book was published in 2009 and it's the first anthology of American women writers. Just saying. Having attended an all-girls high school that did a fair job of highlighting the contributions of women in various subjects, and having obtained a Women's Studies certificate in college, I didn't think that so much in this book would be new to me. Oh, it was - and I gained a huge to-read list of women writers that I've been plowing through since. I'd never heard of most of the authors in the book, many of whom were, we learn, the top-selling writers of their day. That was the most hard-to-swallow fact: That top-selling female writers, tremendously popular in their own time, became completely dropped from the pages of history while a writer like Walt Whitman, who sold almost nothing, lived with his parents for most of his life, and forged his own reviews, was admitted to the canon largely because of who he knew. Yes, much of his writing is incredible, but that's not the point: Long ago, a few men decided that Whitman was worth remembering and women writers were not, and that's why we even know who he is today. Fortunately, Elaine Showalter fixes all of that. Each writer she covers receives approximately 1 1/2 - 3 pages, with more notable authors (Harriet Beecher Stowe, for instance) getting slightly more print space. The format of the book makes it easy to learn about the most important aspects of an author's life and her works, and is also a testament to Showalter's excellent writing: She is selective and succinct, but packs a few pages with historical facts, anecdotes, excerpts, and more; you don't feel cheated. I read this book almost exclusively at night before bed, and its format was perfect for that. Enjoy this whole new world of American literary history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mick

    My response to this book is complicated. I think it does important work; no book like this has ever been compiled. However, it makes me wonder what, exactly, we're counting on a "literary history" to do. I may find bits (small bits) of this text useful in pointing me toward previously unfamiliar authors whose work might prove fruitful for my dissertation; beyond that, however, I question its usefulness and, more importantly, the effect it has on the body of American women writers that it treats. My response to this book is complicated. I think it does important work; no book like this has ever been compiled. However, it makes me wonder what, exactly, we're counting on a "literary history" to do. I may find bits (small bits) of this text useful in pointing me toward previously unfamiliar authors whose work might prove fruitful for my dissertation; beyond that, however, I question its usefulness and, more importantly, the effect it has on the body of American women writers that it treats. Reading all 600 pages, would be an exercise in torture, at least for me. The text is organized chronologically, which makes a certain amount of sense, but adds to its monotony. Showalter goes on and on and on, devoting anywhere from a measly paragraph to a few pages per author. She clearly despises some and loves others, and I can't help but wonder if her passing of judgment is counter-intuitive to her stated, or implied, purpose. She also gives many sections trite, summary headings such as "The Jewish Sybil" or "The Socialist," an act which seems completely to go against the text's stated drive. In giving a literary history of American women writers, and devoting time to their trials and achievements, should an author really sum up these incredibly complex human figures into one-word headings? So simply labeling and categorizing women writers is at best misguided and, at worst, insulting. In the end, her critical references are glanced over and cursory. This should be labeled a literary history "according to Showalter"; it in no way seems to attempt an unbiased treatment (as much as such an attempt is even possible). While this could be useful in introducing unfamiliar and overlooked women writers, I feel it would have proved more fruitful as an annotated, searchable database.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ann Cefola

    This important work traces the well-known and not so well-known women writers. It illumines those who achieved a certain amount of publishing success in a white male-dominated world, and those who evidenced potential. Many of the latter died, went insane, or, like Margaret Fuller, were ship-wrecked--the constant refrain, i.e., "she would (italics mine) have been a great writer," etc., is chilling and sad. In a way, the book begs feminist literary scholars to pick up the torch and research more i This important work traces the well-known and not so well-known women writers. It illumines those who achieved a certain amount of publishing success in a white male-dominated world, and those who evidenced potential. Many of the latter died, went insane, or, like Margaret Fuller, were ship-wrecked--the constant refrain, i.e., "she would (italics mine) have been a great writer," etc., is chilling and sad. In a way, the book begs feminist literary scholars to pick up the torch and research more indigenous female writers, writers of color, and others neglected by history. It's a tribute to the author that I found myself talking back to the book, saying, "Where's Josephine Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winner of Now in November?" I did enjoy references to many respected feminist scholars I first encountered in college. I read A Room of One's Own only recently, and combined with this book, learned that writing as a woman's vocation--as an estimable act--only came into acceptance in the last century. This is a legacy that should push all of us in our century to write prolifically and fiercely. I am curious about Showalter's A Literature of Their Own, focusing on female British novelists, which traces "a three-phase trajectory of women's writing, which moved from imitation to resistance and then to self-discovery." Is that still true for us today? I hope to discover other writers who have or will address these topics.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    Fascinating interview with the Economist on their podcast on this, and remarkable that this is the first literary history of women writers. After reading: Engaging history of American women's writing, came away with a new perspective on the challenges posed by the endeavor over time and a list of authors that I need to read. Reviewers have criticized Showalter for a. being overly harsh re: Gertrude Stein and b. not expressing as much enthusiasm for the later writers. I can't speak to a, but I thi Fascinating interview with the Economist on their podcast on this, and remarkable that this is the first literary history of women writers. After reading: Engaging history of American women's writing, came away with a new perspective on the challenges posed by the endeavor over time and a list of authors that I need to read. Reviewers have criticized Showalter for a. being overly harsh re: Gertrude Stein and b. not expressing as much enthusiasm for the later writers. I can't speak to a, but I think b is a natural challenge to how literature has fractured more recently. My only major criticism is that the methodology for when to include analysis of nonfiction isn't as clear as I might like, and I do think there is something lost in this history by not looking more at literary nonfiction. The best example, I think, is how you can't really grasp the significance of Joan Didion without looking at Slouching Towards Bethlehem and how she captured California during the '60s. But a great read that I highly recommend as both a history and a reference book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This one gets easier to read as you get closer to the present - I think it's because the authors are actually recognizable (Morrison, Plath, Jackson, Rich, etc) as opposed to so many of the pre-twentieth century authors (Fanny Fern?). I do appreciate the research and work Showalter went to in finding overarching themes in women's writing at different time periods. The road to acceptance has not been smooth. I still think longer/any excerpts of the authors' work should have been included. Copyrigh This one gets easier to read as you get closer to the present - I think it's because the authors are actually recognizable (Morrison, Plath, Jackson, Rich, etc) as opposed to so many of the pre-twentieth century authors (Fanny Fern?). I do appreciate the research and work Showalter went to in finding overarching themes in women's writing at different time periods. The road to acceptance has not been smooth. I still think longer/any excerpts of the authors' work should have been included. Copyright, etc., might be harder for the more recent authors, however, I should be able to find most of Mary McCarthy's work in a library if I had to; the pre-1900 authors are harder to find and compare so excerpts would have been nice for them.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Korri

    This volume is an odd mix. Showalter gives detailed plot summaries and analyses of some authors' work while others are only represented by biographical details and the titles of their publications. I guess in this way Showalter replicates questions about the role of gender in art (i.e. how much does an artist's personal life matter in comparison to what she produces? should one look at a poem or novel aesthetically and/or contextually?) The form of the book directly relates to its subject and mi This volume is an odd mix. Showalter gives detailed plot summaries and analyses of some authors' work while others are only represented by biographical details and the titles of their publications. I guess in this way Showalter replicates questions about the role of gender in art (i.e. how much does an artist's personal life matter in comparison to what she produces? should one look at a poem or novel aesthetically and/or contextually?) The form of the book directly relates to its subject and mimics the ambiguity and difficulty of reviewing women's writing as a monolith. It introduced me to a number of authors I hadn't heard of, for which I am grateful, and for that reason is a valuable survey.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I'm about half way through this book and I'm finding it slow going. Showalter discusses so many women that she doesn't talk about any in depth. Still, there is a lot to interest me and I'm determined to get into the 20th century. I have finished Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers, and found it ambitious and readable. It is heavily footnoted, but I just trusted in the footnotes and didn't read most of them. She discusses the roadblocks in the success of women's writing, which included poverty, ambiva I'm about half way through this book and I'm finding it slow going. Showalter discusses so many women that she doesn't talk about any in depth. Still, there is a lot to interest me and I'm determined to get into the 20th century. I have finished Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers, and found it ambitious and readable. It is heavily footnoted, but I just trusted in the footnotes and didn't read most of them. She discusses the roadblocks in the success of women's writing, which included poverty, ambivalence toward "women's roles" and early death from disease, childbearing and suicide. Some women get short shrift, like Louise Erdrich, but ultimately as a woman writer I found it held my interest until the end.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kay Robart

    Elaine Showalter has compiled an astonishingly complete literary history of the work of American women, beginning in the early 17th Century and covering through the 20th. She has written this book, she explains, because literature by American women has been consistently ignored or omitted from criticism, anthologies, and scholarly works. She points out that even novels and poetry that were very popular and widely read in their own times sank like a stone into oblivion afterwards because the work Elaine Showalter has compiled an astonishingly complete literary history of the work of American women, beginning in the early 17th Century and covering through the 20th. She has written this book, she explains, because literature by American women has been consistently ignored or omitted from criticism, anthologies, and scholarly works. She points out that even novels and poetry that were very popular and widely read in their own times sank like a stone into oblivion afterwards because the works were left out of volumes of literary analysis and anthologies and not taught in literature classes. Her work is an attempt to bring attention back to many of these writers. See my complete review here: http://whatmeread.wordpress.com/tag/a...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Railey

    A Jury of Her Peers is a comprehensive look at the history of American women writers from the founding of America to the modern times. It examines women writers and gives a thorough study of each writer but Elaine Showalter never overdoes it. She seems to know that line between not enough information and too much information. The book is basically a textbook but it makes very good reading. I love reading about the history of women and the marks that women have made on history. The stories of ama A Jury of Her Peers is a comprehensive look at the history of American women writers from the founding of America to the modern times. It examines women writers and gives a thorough study of each writer but Elaine Showalter never overdoes it. She seems to know that line between not enough information and too much information. The book is basically a textbook but it makes very good reading. I love reading about the history of women and the marks that women have made on history. The stories of amazing things that other women have done over the years inspire me to do more with my life and make me feel that if they can do it, so can I.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Vivian Valvano

    I've come to the conclusion that some books try to render a history of a subject but only render a survey. There is great breadth, but not enough depth here. Showalter is such a noted critic that I expected more. She is obviously very knowledgeable and well read, but in an effort to write something about just about every woman who wrote, from Bradstreet to Proulx, she really does a "gallop" through the ages. And her handling of 20th-century authors by decade instead of by authors' oeuvres is esp I've come to the conclusion that some books try to render a history of a subject but only render a survey. There is great breadth, but not enough depth here. Showalter is such a noted critic that I expected more. She is obviously very knowledgeable and well read, but in an effort to write something about just about every woman who wrote, from Bradstreet to Proulx, she really does a "gallop" through the ages. And her handling of 20th-century authors by decade instead of by authors' oeuvres is especially choppy. Three stars only in deference to the hours that she had to put into this project.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jayme

    I found it hard to believe that a comprehensive criticism of American women's writing didn't exist until now. All of the courses I took in school gave me small sketches into the role of women in the literary narrative of our country, but this very readable book gave me a more complete picture. Obviously, there are many important writers left out. I could name many in this review. But overall, Showalter created a very interesting portrait. I really appreciated her approach-short biographies and c I found it hard to believe that a comprehensive criticism of American women's writing didn't exist until now. All of the courses I took in school gave me small sketches into the role of women in the literary narrative of our country, but this very readable book gave me a more complete picture. Obviously, there are many important writers left out. I could name many in this review. But overall, Showalter created a very interesting portrait. I really appreciated her approach-short biographies and comparisons divided by era or decade in our country's history. Highly recommended.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    Showalter does a great job of placing each writer in her point in history, while also talking about the individual style, strengths, and weaknesses of her writing. She writes about the major themes of each era while making sure to include women who stood outside of those themes. By the end, you not only have a great sense of how women's writing has changed over time, but also a clear picture of how women's writing and the culture and politics of the day impacted each other. Best of all, you learn Showalter does a great job of placing each writer in her point in history, while also talking about the individual style, strengths, and weaknesses of her writing. She writes about the major themes of each era while making sure to include women who stood outside of those themes. By the end, you not only have a great sense of how women's writing has changed over time, but also a clear picture of how women's writing and the culture and politics of the day impacted each other. Best of all, you learn about some pretty amazing women.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Just picked this up over the weekend and am currently dipping into it. I read some Showalter during my Am studies degree and greatly enjoyed her work, a well-informed and articulate scholar whose premise of putting American women's writing centre stage does not prevent her from offering cogent critiques of some of the work. It loses one star for lack of pictures, though, they would have been very useful to put faces to names.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erin (work)

    Don't be intimidated by it's size: it's very readable and Showalter is engagingly opinionated. I am completely inspired to return to novel-reading--and it was a fantastic reminder of all the books I actually have read (versus thinking about all the books I haven't . . . . ). Not enough discussion of women poets--and not a book of literary criticism--and it is making a canon--but I recommend it. **Important: she is really really wrong about Gertrude Stein.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    I wish this had been out when I was tasked with teaching women's lit! It's a great run-down of notable women writers --perfect for syllabus-building. But it is a little strange to be reading a book that really just describes other books --a terrific way to discover authors, but I found myself wishing that Showalter had done more analysis or offered more insights, even though I know that wasn't her project.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    This book should be required reading for any student of American literature. It highlights the diversity and breadth of American womens' writing, and reintroduces a lot of lost voices. More than anything, A Jury of her Peers makes me want to read, to track down all those women I've missed, and to revist those that I already love. A really great survey of literary traditions that have too often been ignored or trivialized.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pamster

    Okay, wow. Not that I don't have issues (where's Octavia Butler?), but this book is still amazing. It's something that hasn't been done before, and now it exists, and we can all point out our issues with it and have these super important conversations about canon. Awesome, important work. I read Maud Martha (AWESOME) after hearing Showalter do a reading and discussion to promote this book, so she's already improved my life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Holz

    Fabulous pull-together of women writing in the United States. Showalter is admirably evenhanded throughout, never shying away from literary criticism for the sake of the Sisterhood of Lady Writers (though in one small lapse it's pretty clear she's no Gertrude Stein fan...not being one especially myself it didn't particularly bother me). It's hard to imagine that anyone would be familiar with every name in the book either, so I found it a gold mine of new selections for my to-read list as well.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tori

    I'm just going to admit to myself that I'm never going to finish this book. First and foremost because I currently have no idea where it actually is (and it's hard to read a book if you can't find it), but also because it's just SO DENSE and I'm not into it and I find myself feeling like I *need* to be reading it rather than actually *wanting* to read it, which is not how reading for pleasure should work. So, sorry, female literary geniuses. I tried.

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