Our Sisters' Keepers: Nineteenth-Century Benevolence Literature by American Women

Our Sisters' Keepers: Nineteenth-Century Benevolence Literature by American Women

by Jill Annette Bergman
     
 

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American culture has long had a conflicted relationship with assistance to the poor. Cotton Mather and John Winthrop were staunch proponents of Christian charity as fundamental to colonial American society, while transcendentalists harbored deep skepticism towards benevolence in favor of Emersonian self-reliance and Thoreau’s insistence on an ascetic life.

Overview

American culture has long had a conflicted relationship with assistance to the poor. Cotton Mather and John Winthrop were staunch proponents of Christian charity as fundamental to colonial American society, while transcendentalists harbored deep skepticism towards benevolence in favor of Emersonian self-reliance and Thoreau’s insistence on an ascetic life. Women in the 19th century, as these essays show, approached issues of benevolence far differently than their male counterparts, consistently promoting assistance to the impoverished, in both their acts and their writings. 

These essays address a wide range of subjects: images of the sentimental seamstress figure in women’s fiction; Rebecca Harding Davis’s rewriting of the “industrial” novel; Sarah Orne Jewett’s place in the transcendental tradition of skepticism toward charity, and her subversion of it; the genre of the poorhouse narrative; and the philanthropic work and writings of Hull House founder Jane Addams. 

As the editors of Our Sisters’ Keepers argue, the vulnerable and marginal positions occupied by many women in the 19th century fostered an empathetic sensitivity in them to the plight of the poor, and their ability to act and write in advocacy of the impoverished offered a form of empowerment not otherwise available to them. The result was the reformulation of the concept of the American individual.
 
Contributors include: Jill Bergman, Debra Bernardi, Sarah E. Chinn, Monika Elbert, Lori Merish, Terry D. Novak, James Salazar, Mary Templin, Karen Tracey, Whitney A. Womack

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A lively collection that offers a fresh and varied look at the theme of poverty and benevolence in the work of 19th-century American women writers, uncovering texts that have, for the most part, received little critical attention in this context. Our Sisters’ Keepers contributes significantly to our understanding of how American women redefined the concept of American identity through the genre of ‘benevolence’ or reform literature.”—Leah Blatt Glasser, author of In a Closet Hidden: The Life and Work of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

"In their well-conceived and fascinating new collection, Jill Bergman and Debra Bernardi break new ground in philanthropic and literary studies by putting together the first book-length examination of benevolence literature by American women." —Gregory Eiselein, Professor of English and Coffman University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Kansas State University, in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780817314675
Publisher:
University of Alabama Press
Publication date:
08/28/2005
Series:
Amer Lit Realism & Naturalism Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
312
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Jill Bergman is Associate Professor of English at the University of Montana. Debra Bernardi is Associate Professor of English at Carroll College.

 

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