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A complex and unbound consciousness: American women's short stories, 1830--1912

Darcy R Carbaugh, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The period between 1830 and 1912 is the most significant in the history of the American woman's short story. By mid-century, the country began to embrace its creative element more strongly. As a result, and because of advances in printing and other technologies, the popularity of literary periodicals and annuals gave women writers who wrote short fiction an opportune venue. A handful of female authors, some rarely recognized in their own day, best represent the qualities which make this time period most significant. Alice Cary and Mary Wilkins Freeman, for example, scrutinized the stigma surrounding “spinsterhood,” Catherine Sedgwick discussed the struggles of women writers early in the nineteenth century, and Harriet Prescott Spofford examined the cult of public opinion and its clash with personal responsibility. Annie Howells Frechette looked from a white woman's perspective at Native American women's issues, while Zitkala-Sa examined these concerns from within that culture. Sui Sin Far echoed their purpose, calling attention to Chinese women immigrants' struggles culturally and along gender lines. ^ Because these women all spoke to public concerns with a sense of social responsibility while the United States was still expanding, their works are important examples of fiction that reflected and created a national consciousness. This contribution to a national consciousness was aided by the fact that these writers were not as strongly influenced by canonization at that time as were women authors after 1912. From that year forward, established institutions like the American university and the book buying industry began asserting their opinions regarding the value of literary works for serious scholarly study. As a result, these writers' statements emerged purely out of their desire to reveal truths about America and its many places of interaction between cultures and genders. This study, therefore, accomplishes the crucial task of recognizing these women's role in the formation of American literature and cultural history while the country itself was developing. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Carbaugh, Darcy R, "A complex and unbound consciousness: American women's short stories, 1830--1912" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3059941.