Radio Plays


In the mid 1850s, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a letter to his publisher angrily lashing out at the “damned mob of scribbling women” whose books often sold in the thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, driving more deserving writers (such as Hawthorne) out of the literary marketplace. His now-often-quoted and intemperate private comment was later recuperated and institutionalized as part of a general campaign against nineteenth-century American women writers in particular and women’s writing in general. Thus, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the novelist Frank Norris could announce that women may have been writing more fiction than men, but they were not writing better fiction. They lacked, he proclaimed, the necessary involvement with experience–with “life itself, the crude, the raw, the vulgar”–that was the basis for great and enduring literature. Moreover, he insisted, women lacked the physical and psychological stamina to produce great fiction. They succumbed too easily to “fatigue, harassing doubts, more nerves, a touch of hysteria occasionally, exhaustion, and in the end complete discouragement and a final abandonment of the enterprise.”

During the past several decades, many literary historians and critics have devoted considerable energy to challenging and overturning these earlier literary and social judgments. As part of the ongoing process of reevaluation and literary recovery, the stories in this series and their radio dramatizations demonstrate just how wrong, how blind, Norris and other earlier critics and writers have been in their assessments of American women writers. Here are eighteen compelling examples of “life itself” in all its different shades, rendered with great vividness and complexity by women who pursued lifelong, successful careers as writers of fiction. In spite of dismissive comments, their works endured. The renewed study and attention these works are receiving today is the best evidence of how full of life they are.