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