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A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx Paperback – 2 Sep 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Virago Press Ltd (2 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844080803
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844080809
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 4.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 223,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'In the realm of spectacular literary scholarship and criticism there has been nothing to approach Elaine Showalter's magisterial A Jury Of Her Peers. Showalter is the ideal guide through this maze-like landscape: she is sympathetic, informed, canny and at times very funny ? as in her commentary on Gertrude Stein. This is the most imaginative and brilliantly executed book of Showalter's fearless career' Joyce Carol Oates, Guardian, Books of the Year 'A superb literary survey' Sunday Times 'The first comprehensive overview of the achievement of American women writers ... A daunting task, and few could carry it off with such aplomb ... She magisterially offers judicious assessment, adroit synopsis and astonishing breadth and range of reference' Sarah Churchwell, Guardian 'An authoritative study of American female literary production ... A woman writer's female peers can best understand and judge her words ? and Showalter is your woman. There is no other critic who could produce such a clear, seamless history of women's writing, relating it so elegantly and wittily to literary, social and political contexts ... Showalter has given us a huge feast of information, ideas, quotations and gossip' Helen Taylor, Independent 'Although the central virtue of A Jury of Her Peers is its vast scope, it also provides compelling glimpses into the lives of nearly forgotten artists' Stephen Amidon, Sunday Times 'Cutting a swathe through 350 years of litcrit is not for the faint-hearted. Maybe it took so long because it required someone of Elaine Showalter's grip and pre-eminence to take it on ... While the book is necessarily twinned with a timeline, Showaler's genius in pairing unlikely contemporaries ... Elaine Showalter has triumphed in producing a highly readable and provoking survey of the American literary scene. It shouldn't be viewed as the end of an old debate, but the first round in a new one' Mary Morrissy, Irish Times 'A magnificent, scholarly history of American women's literature ... like the scores of writes Showalter so engagingly describes, she knows how to tell a story ... A clever combination of the human and the critical ... The range of this book is astonishing ... A Jury of Her Peers is an exceptional literary history, written with verve and gusto by one of the world's most distinguished scholars' Alison Kelly, Observer 'Vigorously argued, enthusiastic, opinionated, thickly historical and robustly ambitious' Hermione Lee, TLS 'Showalter is celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic for her scholarship, wit and lucid prose. This prodigious undertaking reflects these qualities and moreover is written with a great generosity of spirit that leaves the reader inspired and humbled' Elspeth Barker, Literary Review 'In this magisterial work, the distinguished US professor turns her attention to the writings of her own countrywomen ... Erudite and fascinating' Metro


'Vigorously argued, enthusiastic, opinionated, thickly historical and robustly ambitious' --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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This is a really informative book but wearing its scholarship lightly. It provides a historical overview from the eighteenth century up until modern times and covers poetry, prose and drama. It reads well and provides biographical details as well as evaluations of the texts themselves and the themes that interested these women. Feminists do have to grid their teeth at some of the situations but then, that is the way it was. Best we can do now is know about the situations. For anyone who wants to know about American women's writing, this book is a joy. It fits well with the short story anthology "Scribbling Women"- Hawthorne's polite, respectful description - some real gems in there and a story called "A Jury of her Peers".
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By roxanaredrose on 9 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover
I must say I was somewhat disappointed by Showalter's book. I expected more from her, actually I expected a history of women's fiction. What I found was rather a survey, the history did not quite coagulate. The commentary on individual writers was superficial, the level was that of a review, not something you could actually use in class. This is the second time I teach a course on women's 20th century fiction and I had hoped to use this as a textbook. No such luck. It's pleasant reading, but the kind you can safely take on holiday.
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Amazon.com: 11 reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Jury of Her Peers 31 May 2010
By G. Donahue - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
What: Jury of Her Peers-American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, by Elaine Showalter, 2009

This literary history, organized chronologically over 350 years of American women's literature, makes distinctions, selections, and judgments over this often overlooked segment of American history. The title is based on the 1917 short story by Susan Glaspell called, "A Jury of Her Peers". The theme of Susan Glaspell's short story raises the moral question of how a patriarchal world can fairly judge a woman's value. In the case of "A Jury of Her Peers", a woman's guilt is in question; but Elaine Showalter then extrapolates the theme to that of the futility of women writers being judged as writers by a patriarchal world of publishers and editors.

This 500-page, very-readable history is for those who love literature--especially American literature--and even more precisely, little-known women's literature. It unfolds and reveals a rich panorama of our history. How did the author approach such a voluminous task, and what distinguishes women's literature from literature written by men? Elaine Showalter clarifies that she is not basing her distinctions or judgments on biology or any sexual differences; but, rather, on societal pressures on women over these 350 years as opposed to the pressures and roles of men. From such a broad and sometimes obscure history, the author focuses her search for women who wrote for publication as opposed to women who wrote diaries, letters, recipes, etc. She also focuses on traditional literary genres--poems, plays, and fiction as well as popular fiction, girls' books, hit plays, and satiric verses. Negotiating the task of writing as a vocation with the other daily tasks of women throughout our history is a constant challenge that runs throughout these writers' lives. And inviting us into their lives to see how they did it all was fascinating. How they all juggled their writing careers tells us something about the cultural changes constantly occurring.

This author identifies the first phase in women's writing to be analogous to all cultural history at this point; "the prolonged phase of imitation of prevailing modes..."; the phase of "protest against these modes along with its corresponding advocacy of independent rights and values"; and, third, the phase of self discovery". Or more bluntly put, "feminine, feminist, and female."

Whatever your reason for picking up this tome, you cannot help but be intrigued by all the authors names and want to rush to your community library. Susan Glaspell's story, "Jury of Her Peers," can be found on the Internet along with a few others. A truly grand accomplishment that is keeping literature alive and teaches us there is no end to learning.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Jury of Her Peers is a survey of American Female Authors from Bradstreet to the present by eminent scholar Elaine Showalter 5 Jun. 2009
By C. M Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Elaine Showalter an English Literature emirita professor at Princeton University has produced a magisterial book on the history of American women authors from the colonial to the modern age. This is the first book of its kind ever written which assures Showalter a place in American Literary Criticism's Hall of Fame!
This book is not only the first of its kind but is an excellent introduction to the vast scope of American women writing in the genres of fiction and poetry. Among the luminaries whose works are reviewed with fair and critical acumen by Showalter are:
Anne Bradstreet: Margaret Fuller; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Edith Wharton; Willa Cather; Gertrude Stein; Elinor Wylie; Dorothy Parker; Anne Sexton;
Sylvia Plath; Anne Tyler; Grace Metalious; Gwendolyn Brooks; Toni Morrison (who along with Pearl Buck is only one of two American women to be the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature): Alice Walker, Joan Didion; Elizabeth Bishop; Marianne Moore; Joan Didion and countless others.
Many of these writers have been lost to the historical canon. Susan Glaspell was one of these. Her play "A Jury of Her Peers" lends itself to the title of this sine qua non work of scholarship by Showalter.
One is in awe of the monumental achievement accomplished by Showalter! How could one woman read, digest and research all of these books and individuals is amazing.
This book will become a classic; should be used in all collegiate courses on American Literature and should be in the library of all persons who have an interest in feminism, good writing and the American literary tradition. Excellent and essential!
13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
On Showalter's Women 18 May 2009
By Tom Whalen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Elaine Showalter's list of writers discussed in her book is long and diverse and welcome, but the omissions are even more surprising than I had imagined, and I don't mean the absence of Canadian and Central and South American writers from her "American Women Writers."

I'm not an expert in the field, but here are sixteen 20th century U.S. women novelists and novels I regret Professor Showalter did not discuss:

Evelyn Scott - The Narrow House (1921)
Frances Newman - The Hard-Boiled Virgin (1926)
Caroline Gordon - Aleck Maury, Sportsman (1930)
Eleanor Green - The Hill (1936)
Mildred Walker - Winter Wheat (1944)
Dorothy B. Hughes - In a Lonely Place (1947)
Theodora Keogh - The Tattooed Heart (1953)
Helen Eustis - The Fool Killer (1954)
Margaret Millar - Beast in View (1955)
Evelyn Piper - Bunny Lake Is Missing (1957)
Mary Lee Settle - Know Nothing (1960)
Dawn Powell - The Golden Spur (1962)
Paula Fox - Desperate Characters (1970)
Hannah Green - The Dead of the House (1970)
Gayl Jones - Eva's Man (1976)
Eleanor Clark - Gloria Mundi (1979)

Am I to conclude that instead of these writers I should have been reading Grace Metalious, Pearl S. Buck, Ayn Rand, and Terry McMillan, all of whom Showalter does include? (In fact I have read but won't be rereading them.)

I'm glad to see that in Chapter 18: The 1970s she includes SF writers Ursula K. LeGuin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Jr., Chelsea Quinn Yarboro, and Vonda N. McIntyre. But before these writers there were Leigh Brackett, Andre Norton and C. L. Moore. Nor can one find among her featured SF writers Suzy McKee Charnas, Suzette Haden Elgin, Kit Reed, Pamela Zoline, or Bev Jafek, to name only a few.

Among the 1960s feminists Showalter writes on Shulamith Firestone, Robin Morgan, and Kate Millet, but not radical feminists like Ti-Grace Atkinson or the author of the classic S.C.U.M. Manifesto, Valerie Solanas.

And as for the poets and novelists found worthy of attention from the 1980s, 1990s . . .

Showalter's survey is a good place to start, but the jury, thankfully, is still out.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and comprehensive 1 April 2010
By The Compulsive Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Women have always been writing, even before our nation was created, but it is only until now that one woman has endeavored to chronicle the history of women writers--essayists, novelists, playwrights, poets, and more--in America. A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, written by Elaine Showalter, a professor emerita at Princeton University, is the the first book of its kind. Its title is aptly taken from the short story by early twentieth century writer Susan Glaspell, about two women who conceal evidence of another woman's crime, appointing themselves a jury of her peers, and protecting her from "the patriarchal system of the Law."

The theme of judgment throughout this book is present, but not overpowering. A Jury of Her Peers is quite readable and fascinating as Showalter explores not only the works, but also the lives, of the many women who have in some way taken part in shaping our culture and our country, and how they are all interrelated. Showalter's canon is expansive and diverse, and she writes as much about the lesser-known women as much as she does of Dickinson, Cather, Alcott, and the like. In fact, it is her insights on those names not often heard that make the book most fascinating, and some of the best essays are about Susanna Rowson and Julia Ward Howe.

Though, as the title implies, the book is focused on writers, Showalter's work touches upon a broad range of subjects: literature, performing arts, political activism, and the mundane tasks of every day life. This is an excellent, powerful, and well-researched source for knowledge and insight on how woman through the ages have lived. It is thought-provoking and will leave you with a long list of books to read and a strong urge to visit the library.

But despite being a celebration of women writers, and one would even argue, women's history, perhaps the best part about A Jury of Her Peers is that she illustrates through her many biographies, excerpts, and anecdotes that despite the fact that society views these individuals first as women and not writers, solely being a woman is not what makes these writers or their works so great. Showalter gives the hundreds of women she writes about what many of them searched for but could not accomplish: a voice of their own and the recognition they deserve for playing such an integral role in our history.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Unhung jury 17 April 2009
By Charlus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Elaine Showalter's thematic, though not chronologic, followup to her superb "A Literature of Their Own" shows that she has lost none of her ability to write breezily readable lit crit. Or in this instance, lit history. Or actually, a bit of both. With a soupcon of feminist diatribe thrown in (more about that later).

In 600 pages she covers the history of American female writing, from Colonial times to the day before yesterday, bringing to light writers and literature that time had buried and shows how the writing reflected themes historical, social and psychological. Her writing appears effortless and the reading becomes so as well. Her research is prodigious. Clearly Showalter is aiming to write a definitive history and if her ambition exceeds her accomplishment, it is only because of the inherent limitations of a single authored work.

As she explains in her introduction, she is not shy of expressing her opinion and making artistic judgements but it is here one finds the book's weaknesses.

Apropos of Victorian pious, conventional poetry she approvingly quotes "The simpler the surface of a poem, the more likely it is that a second, and more difficult poem, will exist beneath it" (p.60). Does that mean simplistic sentimental verse is always complex? Could this simply mean you can always find what you want to read into something (a not uncommon academic ploy)? And why can't a cigar simply be a cigar?

She also makes the statement that Harriet Beecher Stowe is "the most important figure in the history of American women's writing"(p.109). I presumed this is meant in busting the door open for woman authorship because she never defines "important". If she means sales and influence, then Dan Brown's "Da Vinici Code" is the most important book of our time. If she means morally important, why doesn't that make Toni Morrison equally important for "Beloved"?

She throws in the bizarre statement that some of the lyrics of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" reflect the "expression of rage Howe stifled in her marriage"(p.134). How does she know this? She never says.

And so on.

Unfortunately the cumulative effect comes off as affirmative action in literature. Artistic mediocrity should be stated outright(which in fairness she frequently does). Historic worth and artistic worth should not be conflated. And feminist motivation should not need to be taken on faith. We don't have to even the playing field. Writers such as Willa Cather and Emily Dickinson and Edith Wharton deserve better. They have proven that no one must play with a handicap for them to triumph.
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