Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nathaniel Hawthorne Hurt My Feelings

I recently bought a copy of Kate Chopin's novel At Fault. In the appendix, I ran across two letters written by writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, and their content included his opinion of women writers.

In a letter dated 1952, he wrote, "All women, as authors, are feeble and tiresome. I wish they were forbidden to write, on pain of having their faces deeply scarified with an oyster-shell..."

Then, in a letter dated 1855, he wrote, "America is now wholly given over to a d____d mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash -- and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed."

Not cool, Nathaniel.

This is a writer who was contemporaries with the Bronte sisters, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickenson, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and George Eliot, to name a few. Feeble, tiresome, and trash? I think the endurance of their writing proves otherwise.

Writing is difficult, under the best of conditions. But to write when you face open hostility from fellow writers and closed doors in the publishing world because of your gender is unimaginable to us today. It's fortunate that Charlotte, Anne, Emily, and their compatriots perservered, despite the attitudes of writers like Mr. Hawthorne.

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