On the "Great subject of Wimmen's Rites": American Cultural Transformation and the Humor of Marietta Holley

By Judy E. Sneller.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

When Nathaniel Hawthorne roared about the mobs of "scribbling women" flooding the 19th century writing scene, his alarm was well founded because American women often dominated best seller lists. Less well known perhaps is that American women’s writing included a tradition of women's humor long used for social critique. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, Marietta Holley (1836-1926) joined this long tradition of women’s humor, and in more than twenty novels, adopted the persona of a wisecracking philosopher housewife to attack a cross-section of American problems ranging from strong drink to suffrage to imperialism. Holley’s writing is important today because it provides rich insights into the relationship between American literature and cultural transformation taking place around the turn of the 20th century. More specifically, her work is valuable not only for its historical place in the development of American women's literary humor, but also for its socio-political role in challenging prevailing 19th century myths of what the "quintessential American" experience should be. Both the myth of superior masculine individualism and that of submissive, domestic “true womanhood” are consistently spotlighted in Holley’s work as stumbling blocks to creating a truly empowered, equitable American democractic system.

Keywords: American Women's Humor, American Feminist Humor, Literature and Cultural Transformation, Cultural Myths, American Studies

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.151-158. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 529.887KB).

Dr. Judy E. Sneller

Professor of English, Humanities Department, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City, South Dakota, USA

Dr. Sneller has taught a variety of humanities and writing courses over the last fifteen years after earning the Ph.D. in American Studies at Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA, in 1992. Her primary research and publishing interests have been in the areas of investigating the socio-cultural impact of American women's literary humor, exploring new techniques of technical writing, and using computer technology to create a more effective teaching and learning environment.

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