Books In Progress

PROPOSAL (in search of an agent and publisher)

Nevertheless, They Wrote: Women, Writing, and Suppression  

Alternate title:  Cover Stories: Women, Writing, and Suppression  

STATUS: Complete; Professionally edited; 79,000 words

CATEGORY: Nonfiction: Biography, Literary Biography, Women’s Issues

TARGET AUDIENCE: Intelligent women; writers; biographers and biography fans; professors and students in English, writing, and women’s studies programs

PITCH: What if what you wanted to do most—write—was forbidden? Denied voice and aspirations, a handful of women wrote nevertheless. It was hard to be a woman, let alone a writer, and then die and be censored. It boiled down to the persisting conflict between expectations of womanhood and having a voice and success.

WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: Authors from Mary Wollstonecraft to Virginia Woolf engaged in lifelong struggles with an ideology of femininity which denied them voice. It dogged them after death when their letters, diaries, and manuscripts were expurgated and destroyed and a proper image fashioned to downplay the unfeminine chutzpah which allowed them to write. Jane Austen became the loving Aunt Jane, Charlotte Bronte a passionless martyr, and George Eliot a respectable bore. In Nevertheless, They Wrote, I probe eleven women’s lives and writing, how they were censored after death and how, over the years, the erasures were reversed.
Mary Wollstonecraft—Jane Austen—Charlotte Brontё—Eugénie de Guérin—Charlotte Yonge—Emily Dickinson—George Eliot—Edith Wharton—Helga Estby—Radclyffe Hall—Virginia Woolf
There are compelling stories about famous, infamous, and unknown women and the curious attraction of truthful depiction as it emerges over time. In the tradition of creative nonfiction, I am present in my discoveries and reactions. The book is exhaustively researched and written in an accessible manner.

WHY NOW? It is timely. Certainly, the suppression of women is alive and well as Elizabeth Warren found out when attempting to read Coretta Scott King into the Senate record. Readers are seeking out biographies of powerful females and responding with their heart to films like “Wonder Woman” and “Hidden Figures.” The synergy possible when women stand together is evident in recent protests against sexual harassment (*MeToo). Knowledge is a form of power and my book provides historic context to the ongoing disregard that women are subject to. It shows how writers found voice despite a hostile environment and, in the process, renegotiated what it meant to be a woman.

CREDENTIALS I am a Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii. My knowledge of censorship was channeled into Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century (2003) and Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction (2006). A third book, Children’s Literature and British Identity: Imagining a People and A Nation (2012) was about socialization through literature. I have a doctorate and three master’s degrees—most recently, in 2016, a Creative Writing [Nonfiction] M.A. from City University, London.

PLATFORM:  I have written three books and have visibility as an academic author. I am a lecturer on cruise ships—the luxury liners. My audiences can go up to 300-400 people per lecture, as they did on the 2016 Queen Elizabeth World Cruise. I have recently revamped my webpage and am developing blog capability. (rebeccaknuth.com)

CONTACT INFORMATION:    knuth@hawaii.edu

COMPARATIVE BOOKS/COMPETITION: There was a flurry of feminist books on the silencing of women in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most notably:

Tillie Olsen, Silences (New York: Delacorte Press, 1978).

Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979).

Dale Spender, Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them from Aphra Behn to Adrienne Rich (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1983).

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (University of Texas Press, 1983).

In 1992, Ian Hamilton’s Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography from Shakespeare to Plath examined posthumous censoring, but only one chapter out of sixteen featured a woman and, within that chapter, the woman was treated in tandem with a man. In the twenty-first century, biographies about women writers discuss various aspects of silencing in the context of a particular woman. These include

Linda Lawrence, Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America (New York: Anchor Books, 2005)

Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton (London: Chatto and Windus, 2007)

Lyndall Gordon, Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds (New York: Penguin Books, 2010)

Sally Cline, Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise (Faber and Faber 2013).

Charlotte Gordon. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley (New York: Random House, 2015)

In October, 2017, Virago published Lyndall Gordon’s Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World. The book has a similar structure to Nevertheless, They Wrote in that it features five women writers and has a unifying argument and an emphasis on both the author’s writing and personal lives. Nevertheless, They Wrote revisits the silencing introduced in feminist books and focuses in a new way on the posthumous censoring of women writers that has been a feature of biographies and editing. I link gender and the struggle for voice and scrutinize women writers’ lives and works with the goal of making sense out of women’s lives and empowering women through knowledge.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindicator
  • Pretty Jane, Feminist Jane
  • Charlotte Brontё Had Ragged Edges
  • Eugénie de Guérin, Heavenly Maiden
  • Charlotte Yonge, the Great Socializer
  • The Reclusive Emily Dickinson
  • George Eliot Claims a Life
  • Edith Wharton, Long Time Coming
  • Helga Estby, Writer Denied
  • Radclyffe Hall, an Eagle of a Woman
  • Virginia Woolf, Feminist

CHAPTER SYNOPSES

 

  1. MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT, VINDICATOR (1757-1797): A philosopher, novelist, travel writer, and early feminist, Wollstonecraft was crucified less for her work and more for her sexuality and rebellion against proper womanhood, for challenging men and the status quo, and daring to have a public voice. As a result of backlash from her husband’s tell-all biography, nineteenth century women had to live with the utmost discretion, but that was not enough. After Wollstonecraft, women writers underwent posthumous censorship and their images were doctored into gender conformity.

   

  1. PRETTY JANE, FEMINIST JANE (1775-1817): Enabled by an indulgent father and family, Austen evaded marriage and childbirth and wrote. She was an alert observer and blended in socially. After her death, the Austen family set out to rescue her from the criticism and routine denigration meted out to women writers. In acts of loving censorship, her letters were destroyed and expunged; an innocuous, idealized image was set in place. Her congeniality was highlighted and portraits beautified. Austen’s issues with feminine dependency, sharp eye for human foibles, socially critical undertones, cynicism, and personal edginess were ignored or denied.

  1. CHARLOTTE BRONTE HAD RAGGED EDGES (1816-1855) Brontё was a creature of masks behind which she hid her anger, passion, and ambition—all unacceptable in a woman. She wanted money, and fame as well. Imperfectly socialized and a social failure, a serious writer with a penchant for truth, Brontё threatened the system more than Austen. Loneliness was eventually too much for her and she gave up writing for love and matrimony. Brontё died a suspect writer of coarse material, and her biographer Elizabeth Gaskell diffused criticism by mythologizing her as an admirable and tragic woman. Issues of genius and social criticism were evaded.

  1. EUGÉNIE DE GUÉRIN, THE HEAVENLY MAIDEN (1805-1848): Raised impoverished in an isolated French chateau, rendered motherless early on and subject to an intrusive father and relentless domestic duties, De Guerin found meaning in Catholicism and a fixation on her brother. With writing an unholy temptation, she denied her literary talent and confined herself to penning a diary and letters to her brother. He died, she died, and family and religious figures airbrushed her image through expurgation and editing so as to sanctify her. De Guerin’s texts were then co-opted by conservative Catholics who promoted her as exemplar of womanhood well into the twentieth century.

  1. CHARLOTTE YONGE, THE GREAT SOCIALIZER (1823-1901): Yonge, a life-long spinster from a well-to-do family, lived in the same village her entire life. A pillar of rectitude, she was allowed to write under the supervision of her father and a male mentor; all earnings went to the Church. A prolific and best-selling novelist, Yonge’s fiction provided popular examples of family-oriented, domestically-inclined and religiously-oriented nineteenth-century women. She firmed up the feminine equivalent of the male quest story: men have adventures and grow up, women undergo soul-searching, make mistakes, learn to accept male authority, and efface themselves in the interest of family life. Her target was the English girl. The queen of socialization, Yonge has marked women to this day. Her biographer, a female relative, posthumously destroyed Yonge’s life materials and expurgated evidence of minor deviations from iconic womanhood to freeze her image forever.

  1. THE RECLUSIVE EMILY DICKENSON (1830-1886): Lonely, fearful, passionate and vulnerable, Dickinson’s response to paternal repression and a tense evangelical society was to take refuge in oddness. She assumed the protective cover of a romantic, white-clad, reclusive eccentric who couldn’t leave her father’s house or be expected to conform socially. By remaining unmarried and escaping the expectations of normality, she had the time and privacy to write thousands of original and explosive poems. Publication, recognition, and censorship came after death. Editors expurgated her poems and letters, and biographers sited her creativity in myths of male-oriented womanhood, covered up female-female relationships, and squabbled over possession of her poems and life. Emily, tough and wildly original, was discounted as a fragile, fey, reclusive, little-girlish, male-oriented romantic figure.

 

  1. GEORGE ELIOT CLAIMS A LIFE (1819-1880): Eliot’s epic struggles with being a woman with an out-sized brain lasted her entire life. After an exemplary performance as a dutiful daughter and Evangelical, she was freed by father’s death, and took off for London and a professional life. There, she lived against the grain of Victorianism and yet was mired in its assumptions about women. Eliot had feminine impulses and desired male love and support and to stand well in society, but was willing to sacrifice that for authenticity, attainment, and intellectual identification as a male. Her literary reputation suffered after she was Victorianized and made boring by a sanctimonious biography.

 

  1. EDITH WHARTON, LONG TIME COMING (1862-1937): Wharton, failing to flourish as a Victorian woman, came into her own as an Edwardian and was honored in the early twentieth century for her accomplishments. A literary figure in own right and part of a close circle of men, Wharton identified intellectually as masculine. But she came to terms with marriage and sexuality and developed into a woman in full. An innate femininity and façade of respectability helped preserve her privacy and reputation. The denigration of false-friend executors and their withholding of life materials led to a dip in her posthumous reputation.

 

  1. HELGA ESTBY, WRITER DENIED (1860-1942): Helga Estby was defeated by the code of domesticity prevalent in turn-of-the-century America. She was crushed after taking on a male role, stepping out of the home to salvage her family’s fortunes, and for thinking she could write. Here was a poverty-stricken immigrant who lacked money, education, position, and support—everything but spunk and drive. She was ultimately silenced in life and then expunged by family members who posthumously burned her chronicles and scrapbooks. Only two newspaper clippings provided a trail back. She testifies to lower-class working women with dreams of writing who fall victim to poverty and repressive social codes—she could only be a mother.

 

  1. RADCLYFFE HALL, AN EAGLE OF A WOMAN (1880-1943): Abused as a girl, Hall redefined herself as an invert (a lesbian) but took on the characteristics of a dominating Edwardian male. She lived as a squire, admired fascism, and embraced conservative Catholicism. A celebrity famous for her androgynous fashion statement, Hall showed great talent for writing, and after outing lesbianism, stood fast as her book was banned. After her death, Hall’s lover launched a campaign to possess her, align Hall’s image with the ideology they both embraced, and destroy evidence of another lover. It was another case of posthumous deconstruction and reconstruction of a woman’s image.

  1. VIRGINIA WOOLF, FEMINIST (1882-1941): Woolf was emotionally vulnerable and yet a fighter. A woman who experimented with gender and had a happy marriage, Woolf took on Victorian mores and advanced equality for women. In her fiction and nonfiction, she articulated the systemic constraints of being feminine and identified the conditions necessary for a woman to write: her own money, room, and privacy and detachment from parental value systems and worshipping men. While posthumously patronized as a neurotic, she is now lauded as a social revolutionary, feminist, and writer.

Page last updated: 04/04/18
Page created: 03/15/18