English, Department of

 

Date of this Version

2012

Citation

E.D.E.N. Southworth: Recovering a Nineteenth-Century Popular Novelist, edited by M.J. Homestead and P.T. Washington. University of Tennessee Press, 2012.

Comments

Copyright 2012, University of Tennessee Press. Used by permission.

Abstract

In early 1901, Willa Cather visited Prospect Cottage in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., the longtime home of the recently deceased novelist Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevirte (E. D. E. N.) Southworth. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1819 to southern parents (her father from Virginia, her mother from Maryland), Southworth lived in Washington with her family until she married Frederick Hamilton Southworth and moved with him to Wisconsin in 1841. When he deserted her and their two children,' she returned to Washington and taught school to support herself, running to writing to supplement her income from teaching. Within a few years, Southworth became one of the most prolific and popular novelists of the nineteenth century, publishing scores of novels in a career that stretched from the late 1840s through the early 1890s. In 1853, she purchased Prospect Cottage with her literary earnings, and although she lived in England in the late 1850s and early 1860s and spent part of her later years in Yonkers, New York, she returned to her cottage late in her life and died there in 1899.

A mere two years after Southworth’s death, Cather made her visit and Southworth's literary legacy the subject of a newspaper article for the State Journal of Lincoln, Nebraska, for which Cather had written reviews and cultural criticism as a student at the University of Nebraska and to which she occasionally contributed even after leaving Nebraska in 1895. Cather concisely frames Southworth as a popular writer of melodramatic novels, a southerner, and a celebrity, and enacts in miniature the dynamic Andreas Huyssen describes in "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other." At a moment in the evolution of American literature when the "great divide" was opening between mass culture and "authentic" culture, female reader and male author, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Cather sought to establish her own affiliation with the realm of pure and by positioning Southworth, her oeuvre, and her readers on the "wrong" side.