New issue of Studies in American Naturalism: Review of Anne Boyd Rioux’s Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist and Linda Kornasky’s review of Bitter Tastes

The new issue of Studies in American Naturalism is available at  http://muse.jhu.edu/issue/36848.  In addition to fine articles, it includes Linda Kornasky’s fine review of Bitter Tastes: Literary Naturalism and Early Cinema in American Women’s Writing (thanks, Linda!) and my review of Anne Boyd Rioux’s Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist.  There’s also a great review by Sheila Liming of Meredith Goldsmith and Emily Orlando’s Edith Wharton and Cosmopolitanism (for which I wrote the Foreword).

I don’t think SAN would mind if I posted a few samples from a couple of them:

Kornasky on Bitter Tastes:

Donna Campbell’s substantial new study introduces a unique perspective on American women writers of literary naturalism. Campbell proposes that “placing women’s naturalism at the center rather than the periphery of the [naturalist] movement reveals an ‘unruly’ counterpart to the rules of classic naturalism” by Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, etc., which, she contends, “expresses an interest less in philosophical consistency in its treatment of determinism than in the complex, sometimes uneven workings of social forces that operate on female characters constrained with the extra complications of women’s biological and social functioning” (4). This alternative, re-orienting perspective suggests, nonetheless, that new attention should be paid not only to “unruly” naturalism written by women often overlooked in naturalism studies, but also to texts written by men usually not included there. Moreover, Campbell brings turn-of-the-century and early twentieth-century film into her study, paralleling naturalism and early film’s emphasis on visual “authenticity” (11).

My review of Rioux’s Constance Fenimore Woolson:

Anne Boyd Rioux opens her excellent new biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson with two indelible images that are the sum total of what most readers know about the author: in the first, “a woman jumps from the third-story window of her Venetian palazzo”; in the second, weeks later, a distraught Henry James sits in a boat in the middle of a Venetian lagoon, trying helplessly to submerge both the dresses and the record of their friendship, but the dresses “billow up like black balloons” (xiii). Unlike the dresses, Woolson’s critical reputation has been less than buoyant in the century since her death, although an edition of her complete letters (Complete [End Page 88] Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson, 2012), numerous book-length critical studies and articles employing feminist approaches, and Rioux’s new collection of Woolson’s stories should do much to restore her reputation.

Rioux’s carefully chosen title, Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist, signals this revival and Woolson’s struggle for acceptance, for it echoes James’s Portrait of a Lady, the work of an author whose reputation has shaded if not entirely effaced Woolson’s own in literary history. “Lady,” too, is particularly apposite, for Rioux’s running theme is what the literary world might have made of Woolson had they treated her as simply a “novelist” without the diminishing modifier “lady.” The book is thus a twofold portrait, not only of Woolson but of the literary world of high-culture magazines and publishers in which she found success but struggled to create a kind of writing that relied neither on the prosaic lack of idealism, as she saw it, in Howellsian realism, or the bloodless analytics of Jamesian psychology.

Biography corner: Robert Gottlieb’s Avid Reader and the New Yorker revolt of 1987

gottlieb [Note: like all the “biography corners,” these are informal impressions, not real reviews, so caveat emptor.]

For lunch and breakfast reading this week, I’ve been reading Robert Gottlieb’s Avid Reader: A Life .   I’d been curious about Gottlieb ever since reading Michael Korda’s Another Life: A Memoir of Other People (2000) years ago, a book with great stories about publishing for those who enjoy relaxing by reading that sort of thing (that would be me) and who enjoy Korda’s stories about his life (also me).

anotherlifeIn Another Life, if I remember correctly, Gottlieb bursts on the scene at Simon & Schuster with immense talent, direction, and a love of books, and he (along with Korda) revitalizes the place. He’s a life force or maybe a publishing force, a Superman of books, until he leaves for Knopf in a whirlwind of energy some years later and The New Yorker in the distant future and I don’t know what after that because I haven’t finished Avid Reader yet.

In Avid Reader Gottlieb is much more modest and charming about his accomplishments than he has reason to be, and this is a generous memoir. Gottlieb doesn’t do the name-check-and-thank thing that a lot of memoirists do; he tells the stories of collaborations, things that worked, and a few things that didn’t. (Here’s Paris Review interview.)

Right now I’m in the section where he’s editing The New Yorker, which was a famous contretemps 30 years ago.

abouttown

Ben Yagoda’s About Town, New Yorker book that looks promising.

Editorial aside: There’s a whole cottage industry devoted to memorializing The New Yorker, which you could spend your life reading if you had endless time, which I don’t, so I haven’t. Some are devoted to an ubi sunt lamenting the demise of its excellence, which is sort of like the perennial clickbait about whether SNL is still funny or not, so if you’re interested, those books are out there for you.

Back to 1987. With apologies to Mr. Gottlieb, I’m going to retell this in a nutshell, so put on your padded shoulders sweater, pouf up your hair ’80s style, and follow along.

In 1987, William Shawn, at nearly 80, had been the legendary editor of The New Yorker for a looooong time, with both the magazine and his magic ways (and neuroses) having survived Thomas Wolfe’s infamous attack “Tiny Mummies! The True Story of the Ruler of 43rd Street’s Land of the Walking Dead!”  in April 1965.  This was the piece that drew the famously reclusive J. D. Salinger out of hiding to attack the attackers, but that’s another story.

The 1987 story, as reported in an innocent time and place apparently so bereft of news that an editorial shakeup could inspire multiple stories, was that the new owner, S. I. Newhouse, had rudely booted Shawn from his perch and installed a young upstart.

Gottlieb’s version makes more sense and has a more humorous aftermath. This is my version of his version, so any mistakes are mine. The link above gives a different version.

  1. Newhouse meets with Shawn over lunch. Shawn says, “You’d probably prefer that I leave sooner rather than later.” Newhouse, not knowing this is his cue to say, “Of course not! You’re irreplaceable!” gives a quiet fist pump and says “Yes.”
  2. Shawn leaves thinking this is the first step in a process that will leave him in place. Newhouse leaves thinking “we’re done here” and installs Gottlieb.
  3. All or most of the New Yorker writers sign a letter saying that Gottlieb is a cad and a bounder, and that he should not take the job. They send it to him.  Oops, they sent the wrong letter. Would he mind not reading that one but read this one instead? Gottlieb, don’t take the job, and also, you’re a cad and a bounder (paraphrasing).
  4. Gottlieb gets to work.
  5. Lillian Ross, famous New Yorker writer and skewer-er of Hemingway and others, who was also Shawn’s lover and the author of an unpleasant memoir about their affair, Here but Not Here, demands that Gottlieb re-install Shawn at The New Yorker in some capacity, and, when he doesn’t, quits.
  6. Gottlieb hires people like Adam Gopnik, which some old-liners think is a mistake but which I am here to tell you, as a New Yorker reader, was a great decision.
  7. According to Gottlieb:

    “To end the Lillian saga: Some time later someone passed along to me a movie script she had written about a great and noble magazine editor ousted by a coarse mogul and replaced by a clever but brash young book-publishing executive (not an editor, however; a public relations/marketing man.) The heroine–an intrepid young girl reporter–came to the rescue when this poor specimen failed at the job, by convincing the mogul to bring back the great man. And then–this was the beauty part–she married the young publishing guy, who had gone back to where he belonged: marketing.”

The moral of this post, and maybe of this book, could be that we all do this because we believe that reading and writing are at the center of who we are, and maybe a little bit that writing well is the best revenge.

A Legacy Review & Updates to the Regionalism Bibliography

I haven’t finished adding all the books yet, but new articles have been added to the Regionalism bibliography at http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/regbib.htm.

You can also read my Legacy review of Laura Laffrado’s Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers Volume 34, Number 1.

Project MUSE http://bit.ly/2u8dkq6

JSTOR http://bit.ly/2u8l2QU

Meanwhile, the list of non-work-related books I haven’t written about here continues to grow:

  • Clancy Sigal, Black Sunset and Jean Stein, West of Eden: An American Place
  • Jane Dunn, Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters
  • Selena Hastings, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham (which despite the title is good)
  • Charlotte Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
  • Elaine Showalter, The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe
  • Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Upcoming posts: updates, research workflow, “Biography Corner”

2017-07-05 11.14.57

Figure 1. Cathedral of St. André in Bordeaux Not the conference venue, but nice all the same, wouldn’t you say? 

The apologies-for-not-posting blog post is a well-worn convention in itself, so this is my version.  I have no excuses except travel to ALA, to DHSI, and to the SSAWW conference in Bordeaux:

But posts are on the way:

Updates to the Amlit site.

A “research workflow” post with some new (for me) ways of processing materials I’ve looked at in archives.

“Biography corner” posts on W. Somerset Maugham and Daphne duMaurier.

More later, and, like all disappearing bloggers, I promise to do better.

MLA Humanities Commons

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Figure 1. Humanities Commons offers you space to post your work and also a peaceful, forest-like atmosphere if you choose that header.

The Site Formerly Known As “MLA Commons” is now Humanities Commons (http://hcommons.org). It’s a user-friendly space to share your work rather than at Academia.edu.

I had already moved my work to the WSU Research Exchange and had asked whether links from research exchanges could be used in MLA Commons; Kathleen Fitzpatrick had tweeted back “not yet,” so maybe this new iteration will have that as a possibility.

In the meantime, I’m uploading my work–well, all that it’s legal to post–into the CORE section of Humanities Commons as well as in the WSU Research Exchange. As with all new spaces and technologies, there’s some duplication of effort (think about the evolution from vinyl to cassette to CD to downloads in music).  It’s a little like Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black seeing a newer, smaller CD format and saying, “Guess I’ll have to buy The White Album again.”

It’ll be worth it, though, for the possibility of sharing work in a broader space.

Interview on Jack London from jacklondons.net

A longtime and valuable site for Jack London studies, Dave Hartzell’s jacklondons.net, is giving a “not found” message, so it may be down permanently.

You can find its archives at the Wayback Machine, and if you’re interested in any of the content, you may want to look at it while you still can: https://web.archive.org/web/20160310175855/http://www.jacklondons.net/

I did an email interview with Dave Hartzell for the site in 2010, and, since I don’t have another copy of it, I’m reposting it here.

Please trace the origin of your interest in Jack London.

Donna Campbell

My interest in Jack London began as part of a more general interest in turn-of-the-century American culture. After reading naturalist authors such as Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and Stephen Crane, I read Martin Eden and The Sea-Wolf and was struck by the ways in which those novels, though prompted by very different experiences, reflected the themes of their works. From his letters and other writings it’s clear how much London, like the others, admired Spencer and Darwin, but there’s an intensity about the ways that London depicts class and gender issues that makes reading his work really compelling.

Later on, I read the California novels (Valley of the Moon, Burning Daylight, and The Little Lady of the Big House) and was struck by how hard he worked to create—and to educate his readers about—an agrarian alternative to what was already becoming a high-stress, industrialized way of life. The contrast between those idyllic California romances about living on the land and the reality of daily writing that London had to complete to keep his ranch going is striking. One of the things London does best is to think about what’s lost and what’s gained when people—as individuals and as societies—rush to be “modern.”

In higher education American literature studies, does London have a high “standing”?
Not exactly, although the situation is improving thanks to good scholarship from a multitude of perspectives, including work by Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Earle Labor, Earl Wilcox, Susan Nuernberg, Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin, Lee Clark Mitchell, Donald Pease, Jonathan Auerbach, the essayists in Reesman and Cassuto’s Rereading Jack London and in Reesman and Hodson’s Jack London: One Hundred Years a Writer, and the authors of recent essays about him in American Literature and other journals. For someone who lacks the high standing in the academy of a William Faulkner or a Toni Morrison, London inspires a surprising amount of critical prose. New approaches to his work and his politics, including interest in London’s journalism, his South Seas tales, and his socialist stories, should help his critical reputation.
In teaching London’s works, what do you emphasize and hope your students understand?
When teaching London to undergraduates, I talk about London as a bridge between the nineteenth and the twentieth century. We talk about naturalism, of course, but we also discuss style. London’s style sometimes veers into the sentimental rhetoric of the nineteenth century, but when reading his crisp and sometimes pitiless descriptions (in “To Build a Fire,” for example) and his handling of sentences, it’s hard to imagine a writer like Ernest Hemingway if London hadn’t come before. In reading passages closely with my students, I also try to point out the highly conscious ways in which he uses syntax, word choice, and point of view; this helps to dispel impression students have that all London did was to dash off experiences and ship them off to magazines. In graduate classes, we discuss London in light of work we’ve been reading the ways in which cultures construct race, class, and gender. We also discuss some of the “untapped areas” (below).
Aside from the “He was a writer of dog stories” canard what are some of the misunderstandings about London and his works?”
That’s the most common misapprehension about London; another is that he wrote only juvenile fiction. Although many writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century wrote for children as well as for adults, there’s been a division between “children’s literature” and “literature written for adults.” Recent attempts to break down that barrier might help a reconsideration of some of London’s work.

Also, as critics have said, London’s a better writer of short stories than of novels.

Jack London’s real-life world, from the turn of the century to the First World War, seems “dated” to young readers who know nothing of the Klondike or socialism. What is there in his work to appeal to a new generation of readers?
I’m guessing that young readers would be interested in the same features that young readers have always liked about London’s prose: vivid descriptions, fresh prose, exotic locations, and lots and lots of adventure (with a little violence for good measure). Can readers still read “To the Man on Trail” or “To Build a Fire” and shiver with the cold that he describes, even if they don’t know London’s views on race or socialism? I think they can.
Are there untapped areas of London scholarship? Please give some examples of research that needs to be done.
Jeanne Campbell Reesman and Sara S. Hodson would have much more to say about this than I do, but here are some possibilities. Some have already been the subject of articles and books, in fact:
  • Sustainable agriculture, agricultural experimentation, and so on in the California novels.
  • Discussions about masculinity, race, body culture, and food culture in the Progressive Era
  • London and celebrity culture
  • London and other writers, especially women writers
  • London and race
  • London’s speculative and science fiction writings
  • Travel, empire, tourism, and London’s South Seas writing
What are your own current areas of London research?
I’ve published on London and gender in Martin Eden, on London and landscape in The Valley of the Moon, and on London and Edith Wharton in The Little Lady of the Big House; in addition, I have work in progress for the Blackwell Companion to the Modern American Novel, for the proposed MLA book Approaches to Teaching Jack London, and for an essay on Rose Wilder Lane as London’s first biographer.
[Update: You can find a number of these completed projects online if you go to the WSU Research Repository link on the sidebar.]

Alexander Hamilton, Gertrude Atherton, and John O’Hara Cosgrove

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 11.42.20 AMI’ve recently been reading through some letters from John O’Hara Cosgrove (link) , the editor of Everybody’s Magazine, to Owen Wister, the author of The Virginian (1902). My principal interest is Cosgrove’s connection with Frank Norris, who had worked at The Wave when Cosgrove was its editor, and his thoughts on Jack London, but this excerpt gives a good sense of what editors–or at least this editor–was thinking might sell in 1902.

In 1902, the California novelist Gertrude Atherton (today best known for her novel Black Oxen, 1922) published The Conqueror: Being the True and Romantic Story of Alexander Hamilton (New York: Macmillan and Company, 1902). By the time she republished it in 1916, the book had acquired a slightly less sensational title: The Conqueror: A Dramatized Biography of Alexander Hamilton (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1916).

Responding to the book, Cosgrove pitched Wister, as he often did, about participating in a series of articles “treating real men as though they were characters in fiction”:

I have just been reading Mrs. Atherton’s book on Alexander Hamilton. The form, which is really a departure, gave me a very clear impression of the subject’s individuality.  It represented a form of treatment that I have often urged using and treating real men as though they were characters in fiction.  I mean using the fiction method to project the personality of the individual.  This seems to have been done very well by Mrs. Atherton, and if we could have in the magazine a series of five-thousand word interviews with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Daniel Webster Henry Clay and their like, selecting a strenuous moment in their careers & putting in an appropriate background, it would make a capital series.  Mrs. Atherton has the Hamilton one under way. (23 July 1902)

But apparently what worked well for a “romantic story” did not translate as well into the type of fictional interview that Cosgrove had in mind:

Entre nous, Mrs. Atherton tried Hamilton for us, and turned out a mighty poor thing, which I had to return.  It was slap-dash, rather common, frivolous, and quite outside the idea—rather crude journalism, in fact.  It is mighty difficult to get that sort of thing accomplished just as it must be done. (6 August 1902)

“Mighty difficult,” indeed. This raises a question for all those who would undertake biography or speculative biography: How much more sensationalism or sentimentality did Atherton’s unpublished draft contain to be labeled “common, frivolous” and “crude journalism”?