In a December 1940 letter to Ethel Smyth, Virginia Woolf made her now-famous declaration: “There has never been a woman’s autobiography.” There are a number of interpretations we might assign to this provocative statement; however, we certainly cannot take it literally, as it was penned at the end of the most prolific decade women’s autobiography had yet seen, including the publication of a significant number of women’s literary memoirs. In America, this bumper crop of 1930s autobiographies included Margaret Anderson’s My Thirty Years’ War (1930), Mary Roberts Rinehart’s My Story (1931), Mary Austin’s Earth Horizon (1932), Gertrude Atherton’s Adventures of a Novelist (1932), Grace King’s Memoirs of a Southern Woman of Letters (1932), Edith Wharton’s A Backward Glance (1934), Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1935), Margaret Deland’s If This Be I (1935), Harriet Monroe’s A Poet’s Life (1938), Edna Ferber’s A Peculiar Treasure (1938), and two veiled autobiographies, Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) and Carolyn Wells’s The Rest of My Life (1937).
This diverse group of texts owes its existence to an unprecedented Depression-era demand for American women’s literary autobiography. While, as Peter Conn has documented, the biographies of long-dead famous American men were popular reading in the decade, the autobiographies of famous living women, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and Margaret Sanger, were more sought after than those of their living male contemporaries in the 1930s.1 And when we narrow the field from women’s autobiography in general to women’s literary autobiography—defined as the official autobiography of a successful writer in other genres—the results are even more striking: only one official literary autobiography by an American woman was published in the 1920s (by Kate Douglas Wiggin). However, at least a dozen of them were published in the 1930s, an astonishing growth rate that suggests women’s literary autobiographies were published in rates far outstripping the growth in the 1930s market for autobiography in general and for women’s autobiography in particular. This project examines the market forces that created this unprecedented and as yet unduplicated decade of growth in the demand for and production of American women’s literary autobiography, and analyzes the cultural conditions that influenced the composition, publication, and reception of these texts.
Depression-Era Market Forces
As the Depression developed in the aftermath of the stock market crash, American publishers, even those who resisted the notion of publishing as a commercial enterprise, were forced to fall in line with new ways to make books profitable. Starting in the late 1920s, experienced publishers like Frank Nelson Doubleday led the transformation of the industry from a genteel, scholarly vocation into a commercial trade. In a memorial essay about Doubleday, popular novelist Christopher Morley called him “the first of a new era of book publishing—which he visualized foremost as a business, not merely as a dignified literary avocation.”2 By 1935, book clubs, bestseller lists, and price-cutting were among the techniques that publisher Frederick Stokes denounced in other houses, even though he was increasingly forced to utilize some of these tools himself. Cheap reprint series also proliferated throughout the Depression: by 1939, Doubleday Doran had six such imprints, including one that reissued Gertrude Atherton’s Adventures of a Novelist for a dollar only two years after its original publication. Bestseller lists became more important than ever during this time, as the acquisition of “headline authors” was a good way for a publisher to stay in business. The success of the Depression-era startup of Farrar and Rinehart particularly demonstrated this model. These two young employees of Doran’s (one of them the son of popular writer Mary Roberts Rinehart) did not like the changes brought on by the 1927 Doubleday-Doran merger and left to form their own publishing house in 1929. Because of the stock market crash, the new firm’s odds for survival seemed very low, but the new enterprise quickly acquired “one of the most impressive lists of headline authors,” which spread itself out over several strong categories, including the bestselling historical drama Anthony Adverse, a new mystery from Mary Roberts Rinehart, and some well-chosen literary classics. According to John Tebbel’s History of Book Publishing in the United States, Farrar and Rinehart’s carefully curated list may have made the difference between their success and failure; the story of Farrar and Rinehart’s early years proves that for Depression-era publishers, choosing the right books mattered more than using modern methods to market them.3
In the financial climate of the 1930s, there were several categories that became relatively safe bets for publishers, and literary autobiography could potentially be marketed within all of them. Histories of book publishing record the convergence of three significant market trends in Depression-era sales: nonfiction, nostalgia, and self-help books and success stories. Book historians have recorded a notable rise in the publication of nonfiction during the American Depression, but the 175 percent increase in the publication of biography between 1920 and 1940 is particularly striking. Sales records also reveal that autobiography had a strong appeal for Depression-era readers; many of the books near the top of the cumulative bestseller lists for the decade were autobiographical, including two of the bestsellers: Grand Duchess Marie’s Education of a Princess (1931) and Clarence Day’s Life with Father, humorous reminiscences that were published as short stories in the magazines between 1931 and 1934 but were collected into a book in 1936. In 1934, Gertrude Stein’s veiled memoir, Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, also became a bestseller, occupying the lists alongside the Autobiography of Box-Car Bertha.4 By 1935, the trend toward autobiography risked becoming a popular joke: book reviewers found themselves awash in a sea of autobiographies, and Carolyn Wells, a popular mystery writer and humorist, made fun of herself for cashing in on the market in the first chapter of her 1937 memoir. Wells’s anecdotal assessment of the 1930s preoccupation with autobiography has also been confirmed by recent scholarship: in Men and Women Writers of the 1930s: The Dangerous Flood of History, Janet Montefiore labels the “thirties memoir” a distinct species of twentieth-century British autobiography.5 Montefiore’s study includes many English World War I memoirs, like Vera Brittain’s 1933 Testament of Youth.
Because of the rapid cultural change sparked by World War I, American writers and readers had also become deeply preoccupied with the past.6 The onset of the Great Depression only intensified this preoccupation, and advertisements—not only for books but for countless other products—indicate a fervor of nostalgia in the 1930s.7 Gordon Hutner’s What America Read documents the historical novel as one of the four most prevalent types of middlebrow fiction in the decade, while James D. Hart’s study The Popular Book asserts that the popularity of books like Goodbye, Mr. Chips demonstrates that the cynicism which had dominated popular fiction in the 1920s had been replaced by sentimental nostalgia in the 1930s.8 Peter Conn’s The American 1930s: A Literary History records that not only authors but also visual artists “found in the past a means of responding to the dislocations of the present moment,” making the 1930s “among the busiest of all decades of historical pictures” as well as historical novels.9 In 1934, the prevalence of biographies led scholar Mark Longaker to coin the phrase “Men who read little else read lives.”10 While Longaker’s study examined the growth in the production of biographies about American presidents, pioneers, and inventors, artists’ autobiographies were also desirable in this market, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1932 autobiography, which focused on the creative genius and personal drive behind his innovative architecture. Literary biographies also proliferated throughout the decade, including three studies of Edgar Allen Poe and five books about the life of Emily Dickinson.11 Similar market principles provided a spur to the publication of American literary autobiographies, including those of Theodore Dreiser and Lincoln Steffens in 1931, and Langston Hughes in 1940. Even young authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote autobiographical reflections on their writing careers thus far for the booming market: Fitzgerald’s “Echoes of the Jazz Age” appeared in Scribner’s in November 1931.
Many of the Depression era’s bestselling books appealed to more than one of these three dominant trends: for instance, biographies like Clarence Day’s Life with Father (1931) and the semi-autobiographical Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder also had strong nostalgic appeal, while works like Dale Carnegie’s (1936) How to Win Friends and Influence People sold well as a nonfictional, autobiographically based self-help book that revealed its wealthy author’s formula for success. From the standpoint of Depression-era publishers, obtaining the autobiography of a well-known, older American author must have seemed like a way to cash in on all three trends—nonfiction, nostalgia, and success story—in a single acquisition.
Pressed by their publishers, some of these women were reluctant autobiographers. For instance, by 1930, Charlotte Perkins Gilman had written to Zona Gale complaining that publishers only wanted an autobiography from her—and nothing else.12 The facts support her claim: Gilman’s 1929 mystery novel, Unpunished, went unpublished in her lifetime. Market demand was such that highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow publications were willing and able to pay significant fees to serialize or excerpt many of these autobiographies. Magazines could afford to pay more because their sales had suffered less than book sales in the Depression: David Welky calculates that 3 billion magazines were sold in the year that marked the nadir of the economic crisis. In 1933, The Atlantic ran a series of autobiographical excerpts, including the draft of Wharton’s first chapter of A Backward Glance as an article entitled “Confessions of a Novelist” in April, and excerpts from Stein’s draft of Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in the May, June, July, and August issues. Competition among popular women’s magazines for women’s literary autobiography resulted in a $50,000 deal for Mary Roberts Rinehart to serialize her life-story in Good Housekeeping in 1931, $25,000 from Ladies’ Home Journal for Edith Wharton in 1933, and the same amount from Women’s Home Companion for Edna Ferber in 1938. Because the literati—herself included—looked down on magazines like the Journal as the repository for inferior writing, Wharton hated the idea of serializing her work in the popular magazine, but her sales between 1930 and 1934 had brought in a small fraction of her pre-1930 royalties and her financial obligations had not lessened. The money the Journal offered—equivalent to almost half a million dollars today—must have been irresistible. To make matters worse, the Journal regularly spoke out against both divorce and divorcees in the 1930s, which may partly explain the muffled treatment of Wharton’s divorce in A Backward Glance.13 Other writers were also facing sudden crises brought on by the crash: Rinehart and her husband had recently lost most of the financial portfolio they had been building for decades, so the serialization of My Story in Good Housekeeping provided a way to recoup losses quickly. When Gertrude Atherton first signed with Horace Liveright in 1922, she had saved his publishing firm from financial crisis, but by 1930, the situation was reversed: Atherton was living in reduced circumstances, being importuned by friends like Carl Van Vechten to write her life, and in need of the money that Liveright’s lavish publicity machine would help provide.14 By the time Mary Austin signed a contract for her autobiography, she was exhausted from giving frequent lectures for speaking fees ranging from $100 to $150; Houghton Mifflin arranged elaborate publicity for Earth Horizon and pleaded with Austin to send in the chapters faster.15 Carolyn Wells had pitched the notion of writing an autobiography to her editor—and been rejected—in the 1920s, but by 1935 everyone was clamoring for her life-story, saying she “owed it to [her] public.”16 Another important woman writer of the period, Zora Neale Hurston, refused requests for her autobiography before she eventually capitulated, publishing Dust Tracks on a Road in 1942.
These literary autobiographers were a diverse group in many ways. Some were high-modernist, others decidedly middlebrow, occasionally venturing into pulp; some were poets, others wrote literary fiction, sensationalism, mysteries, comedy, romance, drama, journalism, critical commentary, or any combination of the above. Together, they represented every region of the United States from New England to the South, Midwest, Southwest, and West Coast. They came from every kind of family: Wharton hailed from the legendary “first 400” of New York society, while Gilman inherited the strict vocational legacy of New England Puritan intellectuals. Rinehart, Austin, and Wells came from middle-class merchant families of varying stability, Ferber was the daughter of financially struggling Jewish immigrants, and Stein hailed from a more financially stable Jewish background. Both King’s and Monroe’s fathers were lawyers who believed in educating their daughters just as well as their sons. Both men had fared relatively well when they were young but lost much of their financial standing as their daughters grew up. When they were working as professional writers, these women lived in every kind of domestic arrangement, some remaining single, several marrying young and then divorcing their husbands, a few cherishing traditional nuclear families or long-term lesbian partnerships, and others celebrating peripatetic global lifestyles. Several of them—and their careers—were impacted by disability: Gilman’s autobiography reveals her long struggle with depression, Austin’s discusses her developmentally disabled daughter, and Wells’s deafness spurred her intense engagement with the world of books from a very young age. The two things that these women all had in common were lengthy careers as writers and the financial motivation to publish autobiography in the 1930s.
Although not all of these American writers were of Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, they could all “pass” for white if they chose. Edna Ferber’s autobiography relates stories of outing herself as a Jew at dinner parties when other guests made anti-Semitic remarks. Both Ferber’s work and Stein’s discuss racism and boost ethnic and cultural pluralism as important qualities for being an American. And while whiteness is an assumed norm in most of these autobiographies, both Margaret Deland and Mary Austin address the issue of white privilege in their texts, as chapters 3 and 4 demonstrate. Unfortunately, there were no literary autobiographies published by African American women writers in the 1930s. Jesse Fauset and Nella Larsen never published life-writings. Zora Neale Hurston’s 1940s autobiography demonstrates similar narrative techniques as the 1930s texts do, especially in her rhetorical evasions and subversion of expectations, and Hurston’s sage observations about the genre seems to wink at the other twelve texts, as I discuss further in the epilogue. We cannot be certain as to why Hurston waited until the 1940s, but perhaps she was avoiding “official” autobiography by publishing “unofficial” forms of life-writing in the 1930s. In that decade, she wrote both the cross-genre combination of ethnography, travel narrative, and anthropology that is Tell My Horse and the semi-autobiographical novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which reflects on her passionate but brief third marriage and utilizes her memories of the time she spent in Florida lumber camps, including a notorious hurricane that occurred in the region. It could also be because Hurston did not have a problem publishing her other texts in the 1930s, unlike writers like Gilman, who found autobiography her only available option, or Margaret Deland, who was starting to be viewed as out of touch. Hurston’s work was still cutting edge enough for American modernism, and she may also have wanted to get some distance from her Mule Bone dispute with Langston Hughes before she spoke directly about her life. Hurston also seems to have waited until after Hughes’s The Big Sea appeared in 1940 to venture into the autobiographical marketplace, and to have used every evasive maneuver that the rest of the women in this group did, with the result that Hurston fans—accustomed to more boldness in her other work—are often disappointed by Dust Tracks today. However, in frustrating its readers, Hurston’s book is certainly well-aligned with American women’s literary autobiography of the era. Possibly the risks of writing literary autobiography, already steep for women, were multiplied by the color line that constantly confronted Hurston wherever she went in the United States, resulting in more years of hesitation for her. Because Hurston’s work rhetorically dovetails with the others, and because, coming right after the 1930s, it offers a sort of coda to the conversation between the group of twelve texts that inspired this book, the discussion in my epilogue is founded on Hurston’s central autobiographical metaphor.
Despite the vast differences in their backgrounds, lifestyles, and career trajectories, most of these Depression-era autobiographers had about thirty years of experience crafting written characters, plots, images, arguments, and impressions, which enabled them to respond to readers’ demand for nostalgia for the past and anxiety about the future. Due to 1930s market conditions, these texts were both sold and reviewed for their historical value, which was a way to appeal simultaneously to readers’ urge to focus on nonfiction and to their nostalgia for the prewar, pre-Depression, American past. For the autobiographers themselves, writing a personal view of “history” gave them authority in two ways: it legitimized their personal opinions as worthy of public consideration, and it allowed them to conceal things they wished to keep private by placing themselves in the background when they chose to do so. In offering women’s lives as glimpses of history, their publishers were reading the literary marketplace quite accurately. Many reviews emphasized the value of these 1930s memoirs as portraiture of times gone by in order to recommend them to readers. One review of Gertrude Atherton’s book thriftily declared that he found her autobiography to be of more “permanent value” than any of her fiction.17 Other reviewers, though they did not like Atherton’s book, felt compelled to admit that “it [contained] much of value” nevertheless.18 Critics called Mary Austin’s Earth Horizon “a record of the frontier” and a “saga of America,” underscoring its historicity, while reviews of Wharton’s autobiography bore titles that focused on historical instead of personal worth, such as “Mrs. Wharton Recalls an Era” and “War and Peace.”19 Ferber’s A Peculiar Treasure was recommended to readers for revealing the “American background; the pioneer spirit which has been building America for 300 years,” and Deland’s “Civil War memories” were highlighted as the “most interesting parts” of her story.20
Enduring Traditions and New Templates
Part of these autobiographers’ emphasis on historical events and their corresponding hesitance to publish the details of their private lives may have stemmed from the dearth of female role models in the genre of literary autobiography. Before the 1930s, life-writing by female writers in America or Great Britain mostly took the form of diaries, travel journals, and autobiographical fiction. Patricia Meyer Spacks comments on the dearth of women’s literary autobiography in The Female Imagination: “Relatively few women have asserted themselves unambiguously as shaping artists in the act of writing about themselves; even Anais Nin, whose self-glorification as an artist and as a woman parallels Isadora Duncan’s, publishes diaries rather than formal autobiography.”21 The hesitation Spacks notes goes back to the 1800s: many Victorian female writers recoiled from the idea of publishing their private lives. In Great Britain, George Eliot was repulsed by Harriet Martineau’s autobiography, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning decried the “vanity” of the process. In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century British or American woman novelists wrote official memoirs.22
When nineteenth-century women did write autobiography, it was often with a sense of trespass and a fear of judgment. According to Valerie Sanders’s work on Victorian autobiography, female autobiographers felt compelled to write on “feminine” topics like charity projects, family life, or literary soirees to evade accusations of conceit and preserve notions of female modesty perpetuated by the “Cult of True Womanhood.”23 Anna Cora Mowatt’s Autobiography of an Actress; or, Eight Years on the Stage (1854) declares, for example, that “there seems a degree of egotism in the constant use of the first person singular. . . . For any consequent trenching on the borders of good taste, I hope to be pardoned.”24 In 1854, an anonymous author dedicated Memories of a Grandmother by a Lady of Massachusetts to her “dear children.” She wrote that she hoped the public would excuse her for “indulging” herself in both telling her story and including a portrait in the frontispiece, since she had been told throughout her childhood that little girls should not be seen or heard, a rule that Margaret Deland’s 1935 If This Be I recalls as part of her nineteenth-century upbringing as well.25 This anonymous “grandmother” seems to have correctly interpreted the situation: nineteenth-century autobiographers like Annie Besant were “reprimanded” for their “egotism” by reviewers, and even biographers of women tended to apologize because their subjects had “done or said something to be talked of.”26 So strong was the ideology of feminine modesty that women autobiographers in the late nineteenth century often avoided writing about their adult lives: in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s posthumous Life and Letters (1871), the story ends when she is fourteen, and Lucy Larcom’s A New England Girlhood (1889) concludes when she is twenty-eight, just before her forty-year writing career really began.27 These writers chose to follow feminine tradition by emphasizing their private lives; even though they were writers, they avoided any discussion of their literary work, so their texts can hardly be considered literary autobiography at all.
Even activists wrote surprisingly mild autobiographies in the nineteenth century: first-wave feminists and women’s suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frances Willard wrote as “wives and mothers,” offering advice to other women and eschewing the idea of self-promotion.28 Estelle Jelinek, in her broadly researched volume The Tradition of Women’s Autobiography from Antiquity to the Present, suggests that women like these, who were publicly known as activists, wrote autobiographies to counterbalance their notoriety and demonstrate their “femininity.” They produced texts that were “startl[ingly] soft[er]” than their previous work, emphasizing domestic identities and womanly duties.29 However, Linda Peterson has theorized that the dominance of domestic tradition in nineteenth-century women’s autobiography was partially shaped by male editors who categorized, marketed, and published texts with their own notions about gender categories in mind. Peterson explains that memoirs were often edited to highlight the autobiographers’ roles as model wives, mothers, and daughters, contending that the “feminine” tradition women thought had been handed down to them by women was in fact molded largely by men.30
Since they had barely any models for women’s literary autobiography, these 1930s writers tended to borrow from other preexisting models to frame their autobiographical personas. For instance, activism had been a strong and enduring template for female authorship and for women’s autobiography for a good half-century by the time these women wrote their life-stories. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the activist template for authorship was, in fact, one of the more familiar ones for female autobiographers in the early twentieth century, and autobiographies of female activists serve as prime examples of the rhetorical tensions involved in women’s life-writing at the turn of the century. Martha Watson’s study of Frances Willard’s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s, and Emma Goldman’s activist memoirs examines both the preexisting and intratextual rhetorical situations within these memoirs, discovering how an autobiography that is too overdirected to one set of readers may set itself up to fail with another.31 Among the 1930s literary autobiographers in this study, Gilman and Deland rely most heavily on the social activism template to frame their life-stories, while Mary Austin and Harriet Monroe borrow a bit from it, redefining their activism as literary and regional. The activist template long provided women autobiographers an opportunity to be outspoken, as the boldness of their voices was deflected by their claim to be speaking on behalf of silenced others.
While the proportion of male to female editors had not changed much by 1900, the Progressive era inspired a pragmatic curiosity in American readers, so women’s autobiographies that were purportedly written solely to be useful to society became the dominant trend. In this spirit, a few female writers joined activists and actresses in publishing autobiography. Most of them focused on writing as an exciting professional opportunity for women. Journalist Elizabeth L. Banks offered her memoirs as a window into her experiences as a “newspaper girl” in 1902. Popular writers Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Ella Wheeler Wilcox also wrote Progressive-era autobiographies but, in step with the times, focused exclusively on writing as a career option for women rather than on their private lives. According to Jelinek’s timeline of women’s autobiography, more women’s memoirs were published during the Progressive era than at any other time until the 1930s. In the 1900s and 1910s, the women’s club movement was at its peak, the suffrage campaign was gaining momentum, and the “woman question” was spurring public discussion in every area of print culture. Reading these texts allowed women to explore broader possibilities by living vicariously. For example, Jane Addams’s Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910) allowed readers a glimpse into a world they might never have been aware of otherwise.32 However, traditionally feminine self-portraits had not disappeared in this new climate, and most Progressive-era women’s literary autobiographies still hearkened back to nineteenth-century feminine gentility. For instance, Marion Harland’s Autobiography: The Story of a Long Life (1910), Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s The Worlds and I (1918), and Kate Douglas Wiggin’s My Garden of Memory (1923) highlight the domestic rather than professional aspects of their lives. Even so, Houghton Mifflin, who printed Wiggin’s My Garden of Memory, considered it an “experiment” to publish a woman’s literary autobiography at all.33
Notably, professional women who published literary memoirs that did not clearly fit into either the activist or domestic traditions paid a price for their innovation. For instance, Mrs. Humphrey Ward’s 1918 autobiography, A Writer’s Recollections, is one of the first women’s autobiographies whose title proclaims that it is a literary autobiography (note that Harland’s, Wilcox’s, and Wiggin’s titles elide their identity as writers). The reception of Mrs. Ward’s book suggests why literary autobiography did not attract more female authors. Her largely self-effacing Recollections were panned by reviewers in 1920: one declared that Ward was “egotistical, and morbidly introspective, but secretive,” and used the “cosmetic art of fiction” to “make the appearance of a heroine.”34 While the reviewer’s query about the “truth” of autobiography is relatively typical, its terms of critique are clearly sexist. Apart from the question of how many male literary autobiographers have applied a little fiction to their life-stories without being accused of using “cosmetics,” it is easy to see that the position of women as literary autobiographers was still precarious well into the twentieth century.
The twelve texts under consideration here reveal that literary autobiography remained a conflicted genre for women throughout the 1930s. Jelinek’s brief consideration of women’s literary autobiography in the early twentieth century notes the “self-consciousness” and “striking lack of confidence” the texts demonstrate compared to the memoirs of other women artists, such as dancer Isadora Duncan’s My Life (1927) and sculptor Janet Scudder’s Modeling My Life (1925).35 Jelinek speculates that a career in literature should have given these women more confident voices, but this assumption may be overlooking the disjunction between cultural expectations of women writers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Works like Mary Kelley’s Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America explore how the generation of women writing while these 1930s autobiographers were growing up (including Harland, Wiggin, and Wilcox) generally portrayed writing as an occupation that did not violate ideals of domestic femininity.36 With nineteenth-century women writers who rarely wrote autobiography as their only female models, the writers in this study ventured into largely uncharted territory when they published written accounts of their lives. Those who were divorced, including Wharton, Austin, and Gilman, were really navigating uncharted territory and faced reliving the painful scrutiny and gossip that their divorces had originally triggered. It must have been tempting to avoid the entire issue, as the public debate over marriage and careers for women had actually reintensified under the economic strain of the Depression. Perhaps sensing this precariousness, Susan Glaspell, an accomplished author in her own right, published a 1930s biography of her husband and marriage instead of a true literary autobiography, sharply contrasting the bold, intimate memoirs published by activists like Emma Goldman and the more confident autobiographies of popular heroines like Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart.37
Texts like Goldman’s, Roosevelt’s, and Earhart’s sold well because of their authors’ individuality and notoriety, conditions that are essential to what early autobiographical theorists Georges Gusdorf, Roy Pascal, and Phillipe Lejeune term the “autobiographical impulse.” Lejeune predicates both the composition and reception of any autobiography on the “prior notoriety of the author . . . [and] the mode of production of the published text.”38 However, many feminist and postmodern scholars have criticized these assumptions for locating the autobiographer’s authority within his or her public life and within a coherent, published text. Sidonie Smith’s theory of women’s autobiography demonstrates that the notion of a “unitary, bold, indivisible autobiographical ‘I’” has been traditionally gendered as “male,” while Domna Stanton’s “Autogynography” defines the female autobiographer as a “female subject trying to assert [herself] in a system where [she is] defined as [an] object.”39 The fact that women often feel less comfortable with their position as autobiographers is reflected in Margo Culley’s discovery that female autobiographers refer to their gender in their titles much more often than men do, at a ratio of ten to one.40 This disproportionate gender referencing in autobiographical titles highlights both the sense of generic trespass and group subjectivity with which female autobiographers have had to contend throughout the history of the genre. Julia Watson points out that “bios-bias,” or the assumption of the autobiographical authority through accomplishment and public experience, is particularly prejudiced against women autobiographers who frequently do not tell traditional narratives of individual achievement, while Helen Buss explains that “the less individualistic sense of the self is more obvious in women’s texts, because they have never been permitted a traditional bios.”41
However, as a subgenre, literary autobiography is founded on the achievement and individuality of the writing subject. Thus, the autobiographers in this study composed their texts from an awkward, double perspective: though they had written for decades before their autobiographical privilege was assured, they had very few female models within the genre of literary autobiography. They had lived and written as both resistant female objects and privileged literary subjects. As professional writers, these twelve women had assumed the “autonomy,” “authority,” “individuation,” and public achievement that are fundamental in theoretical definitions of traditional, or “male,” autobiography.42 For example, in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein records feeling “terribly touched” when a friend’s comment made her “realize that some time she would have a biography,” because the comment implied that her work would become successful and Stein would become so prominent that the public would want to know more about who she was.43
Lejeune first differentiated the literary biography from other types of biography and autobiography in his definitive study, On Autobiography, a category that William Howarth has labeled poetic and problematic.44 Lejeune examines the influences brought to bear in framing a famous life through assumptions about “literature.” However, as he acknowledges, one era’s assumptions about literature are bound to be different from another’s, so one of the most effective ways to read literary autobiography is to read it in relationship to the assumptions of its time. Lejeune observes that “the texts making up the corpus of a genre such as it functions in a given age, have engendered one another and can, from a certain point of view, be seen as the transformation of one and the same text.”45 Since Lejeune’s seminal work, autobiography written by established authors has been examined as a unique category of its own but not often within the confines of a focused literary era. Additionally, very few books have examined women’s literary autobiography in particular, and those that have focused either on the eras preceding the twentieth century or following World War II. In this category, Jeanne Braham’s Crucial Conversations: Interpreting Contemporary American Literary Autobiographies by Women includes an important chapter on “Self-Authorization” in literary autobiography.46 Even when they are evasive, these 1930s literary autobiographies are all bold acts of self-authorization, conducted as public conversations with one another and with cultural norms.
Cultural expectations about women’s roles, literature, and autobiography were rapidly changing as these autobiographers composed their texts. Since “the rules for writing about one’s own life [as a woman] may have been changing as the nineteenth century slid into the twentieth,” these autobiographers faced an unprecedented plethora of options, including the implicitly male “successful public figure” model, a feminine tradition bound by the rules about gentility and modesty with which they had grown up, and riskier new options for self-exposure, exemplified by texts like Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Intimate Memories.47 Linda Peterson’s observation that “some women autobiographers may avoid female literary tradition,” and others “may self-consciously evoke multiple traditions,” can help us understand the complexity of these 1930s female literary autobiographies.48 These writers had worked hard for historically “male” privileges, such as public status, financial independence, critical respect, and personal freedom, but they had also been either constrained from or condemned for their ambitions because of their gender. Writing literary autobiography provided them with a chance to assess the costs and benefits of being a female writer in the early twentieth century, and reading these texts provides us with an opportunity to better understand what those costs and benefits were. All these texts tell stories about how being women affected and inscribed their quests for authority, but some were more candid about this than others. As Barret Mandel has rightly observed, the “tone, style, and organization” of an autobiography can often reveal more than its “content.”49 Under pressure to choose how much to conform to or diverge from tradition, it is no wonder that these authors make such careful rhetorical decisions about substance, style, and delivery.
Mechanisms of Modernism
In addition to negotiating the traceable schisms within women’s autobiographical tradition, these authors were also confronted by the intensifying gendered binaries of modernism by the time they were composing their texts. Modernist literary discourse often positioned masculine/artistic/high culture as a cluster of overlapping markers of literary quality standing in embattled opposition to a cluster of threatening literary “others,” particularly feminine/middlebrow/mass culture. This rhetoric reverberates in the voices of male writers throughout the 1920s and 1930s. For instance, in 1921, Joseph Hergesheimer wrote “The Feminine Nuisance in American Literature” for the Yale Review, calling for more authentic masculine voices in American literature. Hergesheimer, who would narrowly lose the Pulitzer Prize to Edna Ferber four years later, depicts an ongoing power struggle between the genders to gain literary ascendancy in his essay. “For some years,” he writes, “the support and reading of novels have been surrendered to women. . . . Literature is being strangled with a petticoat.”50 Book history does indicate that by the 1920s, women writers had sold in numbers remarkably larger than ever before.51 Although the increase in female readers largely corresponded to the growing number of women who were attending college, the success of books such as Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth were often appropriated as evidence of the female/popular, male/artistic binary in literature.52
Hergesheimer’s fear of the growing strength of female authors and readers was part of a larger cultural and literary backlash that has been described in various terms by historians and literary scholars. For instance, historian James R. McGovern built a case for what Elizabeth Ammons terms a “virility response” as a reaction to the “feminization of American culture” in the period traced by Ann Douglas’s study of that name.53 This response, which frequently expressed itself in criticism of writing by and about women, was particularly virulent in the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, Hergesheimer’s dramatic manner of characterizing the debate was not uncommon. Elaine Showalter delineates how some young male writers of this period voiced their complaints about the purported emasculation of American fiction in violent terms. While these concerns likely had more to do with a sense of competition than a concern for literary values, unconventional women writers who refused to follow feminine traditions either in their fiction or their lives, such as Gertrude Atherton or Margaret Anderson, were particularly reviled. For example, Showalter explains that works such as Nathanael West’s 1933 novel Miss Lonelyhearts reflect this violent dislike in its vision of male/female literary competition.54 In one scene, disillusioned newsmen gather to lament the number of women writers, especially the new group of them who do not use the more genteel “Mrs.” designation but instead have three names (such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman or Mary Roberts Rinehart). The newsmen conclude that “what [the women writers] need is a good rape.” West faults the mass marketplace, and female success within it, with this inexcusable statement. His characters, he writes, “were aware of their childishness, but did not know how else to revenge themselves. At college, and perhaps for a year afterwards, they had believed in literature. . . . When they lost this belief, they lost everything. Money and fame meant nothing to them.”55 West’s fiction here delineates the binaries and battle-lines being drawn in the modernist masculinist perception of literary production: college is where young men believe in Literature (capital L), while popular fiction (largely by and for women), tainted with sentiment, money, and fame, results in angry disillusionment.
Although studies such as Catherine Turner’s Marketing Modernism between the Two World Wars have demonstrated that the elite, male, highbrow artist of the modernist period was more rhetoric than reality, the ideal of the artist as technically innovative, free from domestic entanglements, and above concerns with money and fame was definitely a common ideology in the 1930s.56 In My Story, Mary Roberts Rinehart recalls the power of this ideology: “The theory was that the true artist lived and expressed herself only in her art. . . . Above all, she must be free.”57 Rinehart wryly observes that married mothers like herself—especially married money-making mothers—were automatically excluded from consideration as “serious” writers. She offers herself as a model of compromise, becoming a pioneer in what we now call “work-life balance.” As we shall see, a number of these autobiographers attempt to revise this solitary, highbrow, “artistic” template in some way, but Edith Wharton and Grace King seem to have pursued this artist template in their texts almost exclusively. Throughout their careers, the phrase “serious writer” had come to indicate writers to whom artistic concerns were primary, but the phrase was also used as a critical tool to segregate one or two women from the herd of “women writers” whose purposes and products were presumed to be less pure. Elizabeth Ammons notes that nearly all of them “refused to identify with the popular white women writers who had dominated the fiction market in the United States throughout most of the 19th century.” Ammons demonstrates that many women writing at the turn of the century actually defined themselves antithetically to the sentimental, domestic, or romance traditions, in order to disassociate themselves from “women’s fiction.”58 These authors seem to have internalized the idea that there was scant room for women in the “serious” category of American literature to varying degrees. Wharton believed that to be seen as “serious,” she had to eschew sentimentality, and “must not write as if she were a woman.”59 Literary criticism in that era usually selected a few women writers to praise and left the others to languish in groups in chapters describing sentiment, hysteria, rebellion, or mannishness, depending on whether the critical weapons were being launched against the old guard or the New Woman. Friends remembered Atherton and Austin exchanging claims to be the greatest American female author, and they each must have read at least some of the many pieces of criticism which claimed that honor either for them or for Edith Wharton.60 Joseph Collins’s 1924 work Taking the Literary Pulse provides one example: he selected Wharton and essayist Agnes Reppelier as “our country’s most precious literary ornaments” while lumping Cather, Stein, and Hurst as “adventurers” seeking “novelty.”61 Susan Koppleman astutely points out that the male critics sometimes pitted women against each other, “by comparing, favoring, or encouraging women/women attacks.”62 In this climate, women writers were likely to distance themselves from other female authors. The impact of this trend reverberates throughout the texts in this study: Austin declared that she had “outgrown” her mother’s books at a young age, while Atherton, Gilman, King, and Monroe located their origins as writers within the libraries of their male ancestors and friends. Other women writers of this literary generation also tried to distance themselves intellectually from other women: Willa Cather’s criticism often displays a “sweeping contempt” for other women authors. Cather was, in fact, insulted at being selected to be in The Women Who Make Our Novels, a 1918 collection of evaluative life-works essays about both established and emerging American women writers by ubiquitous fiction editor Grant Overton, who parlayed his editorial connections into publishing a number of similar books and anthologies of reprinted material. Cather did not like to be included in such gendered collections: she dreaded being named as one of the “authorines.”63
Perhaps in fear of being relegated to the dubious status of authorine, these writers eyed each other warily—feeling themselves to be in competition for both critical reputation and popular reception. However, they were not as isolated from one another as their autobiographies might imply. For instance, Austin attended Atherton’s literary salon in New York, and Carolyn Wells paid tribute to Mary Roberts Rinehart’s work in her critical volume The Technique of the Mystery Story. Atherton’s autobiography notes that she and Rinehart had participated in Sam Goldwyn’s Eminent Authors program at the same time.64 Monroe introduced Anderson to potential supporters and contributors for her Little Review, which became perhaps the most notorious of the American “little magazines” purveying the new frontiers and experimental work of literary modernism. Atherton, who had been a local feminist heroine to Alice Toklas when she was growing up in San Francisco, hosted Stein and Toklas when they visited the United States for Stein’s 1934 lecture tour. But Atherton openly criticized Wharton’s major work, The House of Mirth, probably because she considered Wharton her most formidable rival. Publicly, Wharton hardly acknowledged the existence of any of the others, although they were compared to her often enough in literary criticism. It was probably irksome to Wharton when Rinehart quipped in My Story about their common struggles with Hollywood adaptations of their novels. And when these women did have relationships with each other, personal loyalty often took second place to literary reputation. For instance, Austin and Gilman formed a sympathetic alliance early in their careers, but they each criticized the other’s artistic vision in their autobiographies. Sadly, most of these authors distanced themselves from other women in their public statements, and much of their fiction centers on lonely, exceptional female characters like The House of Mirth’s Lily Bart, Mary Zattainy in Atherton’s Black Oxen, Ferber’s traveling saleswomen, and Mary Austin’s “Walking Woman.” Like their creators, these characters are isolated either by sexist interpretations of their behavior or by their inability to relate to the lives of other women.
As writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner gained esteem in the 1920s and 1930s, masculinity became a de facto prerequisite for “serious” art and literature. Bonnie Scott’s The Gender of Modernism definitively demonstrates that the notion of genius was “unconsciously gendered masculine” in modernist criticism.65 Several of the autobiographers in this study wrote fiction that revealed the pretensions and gender inequities of elite, highbrow concepts of art and the artist.66 But there were female artists who either bought into this notion or used it to separate themselves from other women. For example, Willa Cather, herself harshly criticized by Hemingway, constantly differentiated between women’s attempts and male achievements in her literary criticism, commenting once in an article assessing women authors as a group that, given the choice, she would “much sooner pick up a book by a man than by a woman.”67
This implicit gendering of artistic genius as male undergirds Hergesheimer’s entire argument in “The Feminine Nuisance.” There, he envisions a masculine triumph in the literary marketplace: when authentic male voices are finally appreciated, a “new and inviolate body of American literature will be established.”68 His language echoes one of the most frequently articulated sentiments of high modernism: that Art be above and beyond the influence of the feminized mass audience—“inviolate” because it cannot be compromised by the whims of the market. Steps had already been taken to construct this “inviolate” (read “male”) body of national literature in England. Gaye Tuchman’s study Edging Women Out: Victorian Novelists, Publishers, and Social Change concludes that near the end of the nineteenth century, British women writers were more and more excluded from the realm of “high” literature. I suspect that quantitative analyses of the formation of the early twentieth-century American canon would reveal similar dynamics.69
Aware of this gendered binary, many of the women writers in this generation were uneasy about the ways in which their work was being categorized or discarded with the formation of the academy.70 According to Thomas Strychacz’s Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism, American universities were firmly established as a “legitimizing agent” for writers in the modernist period.71 However, in the case of many women writers, universities often acted as a “delegitimizing” agent: Rinehart’s My Story noted that her sons were disappointed when they went to college and were taught that their mother was only a popular professional writer. It must have been satisfying for them when she was awarded an honorary doctorate from George Washington University in 1923.72 However, by the 1930s, American women writers were generally disincluded by the newly forming academy: one 1935 college textbook entitled Major American Writers includes no women at all.73
The twelve literary autobiographers under consideration here were not ignorant of the mechanisms of modernism. Their life-writings reveal their awareness of the importance of the academy as a legitimating agency: A Backward Glance corrects the most commonly made academic diminutions of Wharton’s work, Atherton proudly cites a university professor’s praise of one of her works, Gilman expresses her indignation that a nearby college did not welcome her as a speaker, and Ferber and Wells muse about their legacy hopefully, noting that one or two of their books were taught in college classrooms. Realizing that the academy had started closing ranks on them as they neared the ends of their careers, these authors defended their contributions to American literature in their autobiographies.
The American academy’s judgment was also supported and influenced by the little magazines that prevailed between 1912 and 1932. Little magazines often worked to promote the “new,” “highbrow,” or “experimental” (most often masculine) literature from contamination from the “domestic,” “sentimental,” “traditional,” or “popular” (categories to which most of the autobiographers in this study had been relegated by the 1930s), and to provide the authors who wrote in them a medium for work that was “too esoteric or intellectual” for the American public.74 These literary journals “provided [less popular] writers with an increasingly elaborate infrastructure and sense of community.”75 While the majority of little magazines were edited by men, two of the autobiographers in this study, Margaret Anderson and Harriet Monroe, published memoirs about the struggles of editing literary magazines in this era: Anderson’s My Thirty Years’ War relates the vicissitudes of running the Little Review, and Monroe’s A Poet’s Life extrapolates the purposes and policies of Poetry magazine, which she founded and edited from 1912 to 1936. Magazines like these often defined themselves by distinguishing who was producing new, innovative literature and who was not. While they may have provided a safe haven for modernist writers frustrated with the pursuit of commercial success, little magazines often excluded the work of American women authors who had established their careers decades earlier. As chapter 5 demonstrates, only Harriet Monroe’s Poetry remained open to less avant-garde work by women as high modernism took a firmer hold in American literature, and Monroe was heavily criticized for her pro-woman editorial decisions throughout the 1920s.
As the 1920s gave way to the 1930s, the mechanisms of modernism began to increasingly exclude women writers.76 Literary history reveals ample reasons for the anxiety of American women writers in the 1930s. In addition to being largely excluded by the literary critics and college professors who were effectively forming the American canon, the upcoming generation of women writers suffered periodic bouts of suppression and decline. Calling them the “Other Lost Generation,” Elaine Showalter delineates the frustration, fragmentation, and silencing of younger women writers in particular.77 But while older female writers still held a wide audience, they suffered the diminishment of their critical reputations. Wharton, not liking what she read in 1920s reviews and criticism of her work, started to privately worry about “forestall[ing]” the influence of “things people are going to assert about me after I am dead” in the years leading up to the publication of A Backward Glance.78 Both she and Willa Cather were scorned by the new literary establishment as “decorous relics” in the 1930s.79 Because of their lengthy careers, many autobiographers in this study were facing the same sort of ageism: by 1941, the second half of Margaret Deland’s autobiography was rather condescendingly dismissed as a “gentle woman’s gentle book” written by “a very old lady.”80 The rapidly forming “great divide,” as Andreas Huyssen terms it, was not just gendered in literature but also generational.81 Critically relegated to their aging “public,” these writers’ success had become a double-edged sword: it gave them power in the public marketplace, and thus an economic appeal to publishers, but it also sharpened the lines of the gender binary that associated women writers with mass culture rather than with “Art.” As they composed their texts, these autobiographers all knew that their literacy legacy was on the line. In writing to the power-brokers of their time—those who controlled the mechanisms of modernism—these authors faced a conundrum that female autobiographers have faced since Teresa of Avila: “composing a version of the past that will argue for a desirable future.”82
For these authors, securing a “desirable future” for their work must have seemed unlikely, as conditions were not auspicious for women trying to build literary legacies in the early twentieth century. Marysa Demoor’s collection Marketing the Author: Authorial Personae, Narrative Selves, and Self-Fashioning, 1880–1930, traces five female British authors from this generation and their attempts to “control their public image by creating a self.” Demoor finds that almost all of them—with the exception of Virginia Woolf—failed to do so, because the public either overrode their projected images with other popular narratives about them, misunderstood their intentions, or just forgot about them once they were no longer in the press. Demoor concludes that women’s “association with mass consumption problematized the position of the aesthetically and intellectually ambitious woman” in the early twentieth century.83 Like their British counterparts who made such unsuccessful attempts to control the public’s perception of them, these American women writers were all subject to the scrutiny given to female celebrities throughout their careers. This culture of celebrity surrounding American women writers had been growing since these women began writing, though not all of them relished it. At the outset of her writing career, Grace King noted in her journal, “The writers of the present day, the Americans I mean, seem rather to wish to be an art rather than artists. No sooner do they get a little reputation from writing than they hasten to confide to the entire public all they know about themselves. Their thoughts, feelings sensations, mode of life . . . what they eat, drink, and wear during the process, trying always to exemplify some theory or theorum.”84
By 1930, the various “theorums” King decries had resolved into four primary templates used to categorize and label different types of women writers in public discourse: (1) the artist or “serious” writer, (2) the activist, (3) the professional, and (4) the celebrity. While many writers intentionally utilized one of the first three templates to frame their work, the celebrity template for authorship was apt to interfere with writers’ attempts at self-definition. King presaged this in her journal, expressing her fears that the publicity machine with its “openness” and “frankness” would do both the writers themselves and the world in which they existed a “great wrong.”85 The public interest in personal details about professional female writers that King describes led to the publication of books like the 1903 volume Women Authors of Our Day in Their Homes, which contained interviews and photographs of twenty-seven American writers. Later works like Grant Overton’s 1918 The Women Who Make Our Novels; 1922’s The Women Novelists by R. Brimley Johnson; and The Genteel Female: An Anthology, which Alfred A. Knopf published in 1931, demonstrates the intensifying interest in women writers in the first few decades of the twentieth century. In these same decades, growing public interest in authors and authorship had resulted in the expansion of the “Books” section of the New York Times as well as the launch of both the Saturday Review of Literature and a new Books section for the New York Herald Tribune.86 To fill these additional pages, the “profile” became a staple of magazines and newspapers, and well-known writers often found themselves “profiled” with or without their permission.87
Other American phenomena, like the ladies’ amateur arts association movement, peaked at the same time and were fed by the same curiosity. By the 1920s, many women’s clubs had invested in building huge clubhouses to accommodate the crowds that writers like Mary Austin or Charlotte Perkins Gilman drew.88 Public curiosity about the women’s lives led to greater and greater levels of detail: for instance, the public eagerly imbibed tidbits about writer-celebrities like Edna Ferber and the other authors who formed the Algonquin circle.89 Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, publishers’ memoirs or biographies (including that of Wharton’s publisher, Charles Scribner II, and Atherton’s, Horace Liveright) gave yet another glimpse into literary circles. These books often contained anecdotes about what it was like to deal with these women and other well-known writers “behind the scenes.” The proliferation of publicity in all these forums reflects a greater trend in the literary marketplace, an increasing public curiosity that Carolyn Wells decried as an appetite to know all the “petty details of the life of a celebrity.”90 Thus, very few authors wholeheartedly embraced the celebrity template in their literary autobiographies. Popular writers who were photographed often, like Edna Ferber and Mary Roberts Rinehart, wrote autobiographies that overtly downplayed their celebrity status. And, as chapter 2 demonstrates, when Gertrude Atherton and Margaret Anderson did write autobiographies that emphasized their notorious celebrity, it produced some dramatic results and negative reactions.
Because of Depression-era shifts to more visual advertising and promotion methods for books, this increasingly intimate scrutiny of the lives of writers had reached a new peak by the time these women were composing their literary autobiographies. Even biographical dictionaries printed physical descriptions and domestic details along with typical catalogues of each author’s works. For instance, Living Authors, published in 1931, reports on the name of Dorothy Parker’s dachshund, describes Agnes Reppelier’s “fine head, crowned with vigorous gray hair” and Gertrude Atherton’s “pale gold hair,” calls Zona Gale “as beautiful as any girl could be,” describes Edith Wharton as “exquisitely dressed . . . with a kind of air,” and refers to Mary Austin’s “jam-borees,” which is what she called the bouts of canning she indulged in between novels. Such intimate details, especially about physical appearance, occur more frequently in the chapters about women authors than about men, with the exception of flamboyant figures like Carl Van Vechten.91 Entries about male writers such as Upton Sinclair do not include significant physical description or domestic detail.
These literary “portraits” suggest the tenor of public interest in women authors in 1931. Apparently, readers expected to be allowed greater intimacy into the private worlds of women writers—an expectation which demonstrates that the conditions of composition were still quite different for female and male autobiographers well into the twentieth century. The difference may account for the “striking lack of confidence” and “self-consciousness” Jelinek notes in this group of texts: the self-consciousness may be grounded in a suspicion that opening a limited portal into one’s private life and thoughts might be met with other voracious demands for more details or with condescending, sexist responses. Lejeune characterizes autobiography as a “‘collective agreement’ reached between authors and readers through the intermediary of the publishers,” both “a mode of reading as much as it is a type of writing”—one wherein the author and reader implicitly agree to certain conditions. These conditions create what Lejeune calls “The Autobiographical Pact” including the “referential pact” in which autobiographers “claim to provide information about a ‘reality’ exterior to the text.”92 But by 1931, there were so many versions of each of these women in circulation in press releases, gossip columns, society pages, and newspapers, and it already would have been difficult for readers to distinguish which preexisting narrative was closest to reality. Just as they have for other genres, the horizons of expectations for autobiography have changed over the centuries, and the public’s reactions to these women’s autobiographies demonstrate that 1930s readers held a new “tell-all” expectation transported from celebrity culture. Indeed, many readers complained that the autobiographies in this study did not tell enough, especially when compared to memoirs like Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Intimate Memories or Emma Goldman’s Living My Life. Editors and critics alike noticed and lamented this fact in all these books. Mary Austin’s editor wanted her to “elaborate” on the “skimpy” second half of her manuscript. At one dinner given in her honor, she even felt the need to apologize for her omissions of any “romantic affairs” in Earth Horizon.93 Some of Wharton’s reviewers noticed that she was holding her readers at a distance, and it is true that Wharton’s unhappy married life and her one passionate love affair form no part of her story. Often, the intimate details of these women’s private lives are either deferentially hidden or lurk behind a facade of false bravado. Their discomfort with their position as female autobiographers who came of age in an era in which they were taught to be discrete, and then wrote memoirs half a century later to an audience who demanded intimate details, is readily apparent. Read in that light, the innovative narrative rhetoric their autobiographies use to hide or elide certain intimate details about their lives can be read as a form of resistance to the marketplace.
Visual Discourse and Verbal Debate
Due to the combined pressures of public curiosity about authors and fierce competition for sales, pictorial publicity was especially emphasized in the 1930s book market. By 1933, publishers had switched from “drab and wordy” descriptions of the books on their lists to advertisements that were every bit as flashy as those for any other product. Newspapers carried advertisements for all manner of books, and photographs of the authors were a key tool in such advertisements.94 In 1936, one astute observer compared the press surrounding the release of a new book to that of a Hollywood film.95 Advertisers used photographs so prominently that in a good many cases, the image took up more space on the page than the preview or review of the book. As Marta Banta has demonstrated, any woman “who elected to advance a body of social and political principles was compelled to resolve the question of how to embody those values pictorially.” For instance, suffragettes often used glamorous pictures to combat their public perception as harsh, strident, or “mannish.” In contrast, early twentieth-century pictures of female judges and leaders in the temperance movement usually wore professional garb in photos, dressing for their work instead of for a male gaze, desexualizing their images, sometimes defeminizing themselves to claim their places in a “man’s world.”96
Authors were not exempt from this visual scrutiny. In fact, Christopher Wilson has compared the “rage and fretting” about the caprices of fame by authors in that era to that of a “modern rock star.”97 In such a climate, these authors learned to exercise control over their public images, and they tended to use the same pictures or poses over and over again as publicity shots, either to reinforce or to contradict public discourse about them. For instance, Gertrude Atherton, who referred to herself as an “intellectual siren,” was adamant about being photographed in off-the-shoulder gowns until she was nearly ninety years old. Likewise, Mary Austin rejected an Ansel Adams photo of her because, as she explained in a lengthy letter to him, it did not convey “the energetic index . . . an upright and forthgoing quality” she was looking for.98 Austin did not want the public to see her fatigue or frustration: she feared losing their confidence, and thus their attendance, at her lectures. Gertrude Stein’s famous cross-dressing photographs both embodied her critique of gender as a performance and established her iconoclastic celebrity brand. But Stein was not the only author who used visual discourse to craft a unique brand. Most of Edna Ferber’s publicity photographs are sleek and professional looking, the clothes she wears in them as tidy and well-coordinated as her stories. But, although she shared Ferber’s intense work ethic, Mary Roberts Rinehart looks like a movie star in many of her publicity shots: she is glamorously draped in lush fabrics or furs, with dramatic eyebrows and Clara Bow lips. While the photographed Ferber looks as if she could sit right down and start writing or head out on one of her legendary long walks, Rinehart’s photos embody readers’ dreams of what a successful female writer’s social life would be like.
Naturally, all these authors carefully selected images for the frontispieces of their autobiographies. On the first page of her autobiography, Mary Austin is dressed as for her role as American Sybil and earth mother: her hand rests contemplatively on the side of her chin, she is swathed in a large shawl, and a large piece of Native American jewelry hangs around her neck. She faces the camera directly, claiming authority by gazing back at the viewer, as female judges did to assert themselves in photographs of the same era. In her frontispiece, Charlotte Perkins Gilman seems unaware of the camera, gazing calmly away from it. This serene portrait reflects the theory her autobiography proposes, that one’s “living” or inner reality is entirely separate from one’s “life” or outer reality. However, there is a fascinating visual/verbal tension that these photographs create within many of these texts. For instance, Wharton’s frontispiece photo mixes the direct, measured gaze of a judge with an elegant pearl choker necklace and luxuriant furs. However, the text of Wharton’s autobiography rejects both femininity and fashion. Edna Ferber selected a very unusual photograph for the frontispiece to her autobiography. Rather than the professional, sophisticated publicity portrait she usually used, there’s a picture of Ferber as a little girl, her hair in fuzzy pigtails, wearing a bonnet tied with a huge bow, fanning out her long, crinkled skirts. She is either dancing or about to take a bow—it’s hard to tell which—in front of heavy floral curtains on a busy floral rug. It is unsophisticated, unprofessional, and naive, the opposite of the sleek public persona Ferber had established by the time the book was published. It promises that there is far more to Ferber than her reading public had ever imagined, and that the book might well take you to those heretofore unknown places. The rest of Ferber’s autobiographical photos are also unlike her usual publicity shots. They are candid, vulnerable, even silly, until the very last one, a somber photo inserted into the last chapter wherein Ferber importunes fellow Americans to take action against the Holocaust in Europe. Rather than choosing images to “illustrate” their texts, as was expected and traditional within autobiographies, Stein’s and Wells’s veiled autobiographies utilize images that lead the reader away from a knowable, visible self. Also resisting the public gaze, Margaret Deland’s If This Be I includes only one photograph. While Deland was seventy-eight when the book was published, she is six years old in the picture.
Although some writers resisted participating in the visual discourse associated with celebrity culture, rising public curiosity about the private lives of professional women in general had become a driver in both American literature and film in the 1920s and 1930s. In response to public curiosity about “these modern women,” the Nation ran a series from 1926 through 1927 featuring autobiographical articles by famous women, including Mary Austin, with careers ranging from politics to writing fiction. The magazine’s editors wanted to “discover the origin of their modern point-of-view toward men, marriage, children, and jobs. Do spirited ancestors explain their rebellion? Or is it due to thwarted ambition or distaste for domestic drudgery?”99 As terms like “rebellion,” “thwarted,” and “distaste” suggest, these modern working women were often confronted with loaded questions about their personal and professional choices. By the end of the 1920s, popular magazines were regularly publishing and promoting fictional and nonfictional accounts of accomplished career women, and writers like Fannie Hurst and Christopher Morley depicted the evolution of the working woman in novels like Back Street (1931), Imitation of Life (1933), and Kitty Foyle (1939), all of which were adapted into films, as did movie scripts like 1933’s Baby Face and 1936’s Career Woman. By the mid-1930s, the “career woman” had “achieved her own conventionality” as a central character in American storytelling.100
Within the larger cultural discourse about “career women,” the semiprivate, semipublic lives of writers became a popular 1930s subgenre. Magazine articles about the financial dealings of writers, publishers, and literary agents proliferated in response to public interest in that aspect of the field—and not only in literary journals. As Wilson notes, magazines written to all classes and all audiences promoted the new interest in writing.101 Movie scripts about female writers and reporters drew big star power in films like Theodora Goes Wild (1936), wherein a quiet, small-town spinster—portrayed by Irene Dunne—secretly authors a scandalous bestseller, while Jean Arthur played the lead opposite William Powell in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936), a comic whodunnit in which a divorced mystery writer gets her husband back. Back in Circulation (1937), a film about a journalist who uses her work to bring a former chorus girl to trial for murder, examines the power female writers could wield in society, as does His Girl Friday (1940), in which a reporter played by Rosalind Russell scoops her all-male newsroom colleagues and saves a wrongfully condemned man’s life. The public’s awareness of different templates for female authorship is especially highlighted in Bette Davis’s performance in Old Acquaintance, wherein Davis plays a highbrow female novelist. The movie traces the lifelong tension between Davis’s character and an old rival who writes popular romances. While Old Acquaintance was released in 1943, the film would not have been produced without the public’s understanding of discourse about the differences between the “artist” and the “celebrity” templates for female authorship, which had developed throughout the 1930s. I have come to believe that Depression-era literary autobiographies both drew from and contributed to the establishment of these templates for authorship in the American imagination. In particular, Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1931 My Story shaped the “professional” template as a means to resist her own dismissal as a “popular” celebrity; this newer template for women writers gave other writers like Edna Ferber and Harriet Monroe more appropriate options for characterizing the nature of their own endeavors.
While it emerges most overtly as a guiding force in Rinehart’s autobiography, the professional template for authorship makes its influence felt in many of these texts. Because of the economic conditions of the Depression and the resulting changes in publishing, writing was considered more and more a professional business for women instead of a genteel hobby. Charlotte Perkins Gilman openly heralded these changes as an opportunity for greater artistic freedom, with “fresh fields of fiction” for the emancipated woman.102 Wharton’s autobiography speaks of how writing to deadline made her “master [her] tools”—acknowledging writing as a profession, despite how genteel and domestic her actual routine of writing in bed in the mornings and then entertaining or visiting in the afternoons may have been.103 (Wharton reveals nothing of these domestic rituals in A Backward Glance.) Powerful 1930s publishers like Doubleday believed that “once a writer gained a wide public, his work ‘becomes a business and must be treated as such,’” and the autobiographies of Mary Roberts Rinehart and Edna Ferber reveal Doubleday’s motto in action.104
Reviews of 1930s literary autobiographies reveal that these women were expected to engage questions about writing as a business in their memoirs. Some reviews of Ferber’s A Peculiar Treasure focused on the notion of success, recommending the text for aspiring writers to learn from. For Ferber’s fans, this was a natural expectation, as she first found fame through publishing a series of magazine stories about a successful woman in business. It is interesting to observe which of these writers talk openly about earning money in their autobiographies, such as Ferber, Monroe, Gilman, and Rinehart, and which of them do not, such as Wharton, Stein, Deland, and King. This divide generally falls along the lines of whether the autobiographer wishes to emphasize an artistic or activist identity over a professional one, and also how much they wish to affiliate or identify with their female readers. Biographies about these women demonstrate how shrewd and assertive many of them could be as businesswomen, but sometimes their autobiographies mask their concerns with financial success or sublimate those concerns beneath artistic triumph or rejection. These strategies may have been intended to lift these authors above the curiosity the mass audience felt toward all working women, to distance them from the ambitious women who may have composed part of their reading audience, or to insulate them from the implication that they should be content with popular or financial success, rather than fighting for artistic status.
Popular and Critical Reception
Although they had all been accustomed to deadlines and editorial pressure for decades before they started writing their autobiographies, most of these women found the unique pressures of composing autobiography for a curious reading public comparatively unpleasant. Wharton referred to her autobiography as a “confounded thing” while she was writing it.105 Austin wrote to a friend that she “dreaded” her autobiographical task.106 Acknowledging the tension between the demand for and discomfort within these women’s autobiographies is crucial to understanding them, for they jointly imply that these women knew all the reasons why their potential audiences would be interested in reading their life stories and felt uneasy about the impression their books would make. Their uneasiness had due cause: when Wharton’s editor forwarded her the news that the editor at Ladies’ Home Journal wanted to cut her reminiscences by almost one half, to excise the “dull parts,” she acerbically replied that she had “always wondered how [her autobiography] could interest such a public as the American illustrated magazines are addressed to.”107 Mary Roberts Rinehart’s text was compromised as well: she had to cut the sections that the editorship felt might not appeal to Good Housekeeping’s mass audience.108
The quandary of presenting one’s life to an audience who is primed for misunderstanding was a common frustration for these women. How can one define oneself in opposition to the values of the very audience who determines the success of one’s book? Mary Austin’s 1912 semi-autobiographical novel, A Woman of Genius, prefigures the situation she and the other autobiographers in this study would later face. In the novel’s introduction, she assesses the problem of audience for an “accomplished woman” who is writing her autobiography: “I thought then of writing the life of an accomplished woman, and not so much of the accomplishment as of the woman.” The heroine of Austin’s novel, a fictionalized version of herself as an actress, begins her autobiography: “It is strange that I can never think of writing any account of my life without thinking of Pauline Mills and wondering what she would think of it. Pauline is rather given to reading the autobiographies of distinguished people . . . and finding in them new persuasions of the fundamental rightness of her scheme of things.” The heroine, Olivia Lattermore, goes on to explain that Pauline, who represents the social norms of femininity in the novel, is prone to willfully misunderstanding the lives of other women. Therefore, Olivia is “highly suspicious of the social estimate of women, by the general social conspiracy against her telling the truth about herself.”109 This description implies a fear that the real truth about an unconventional woman must remain incomprehensible to the average reader.
Austin’s insight foreshadows the dual audience for women’s literary autobiography during the Depression: the massive popular readership and the more highbrow audience that directed the mechanisms of modernism. These autobiographers depended on both audiences. One controlled their financial success, and the other their critical reputations. How could they address them both? This question forms a central dilemma in the composition and reception of these books. How could these authors create texts that would appeal both to the reading masses and to critics who viewed themselves as an antidote to the reading masses? These literary autobiographies are constantly anticipating and confronting this dilemma, among others, and to understand them in their context, we must ask these critical questions:
- 1. How did contemporary audiences—both the mass readership and the literary elite—react to these texts when they were published?
- 2. How do the autobiographies reveal the ways in which these women tried to define themselves in relationship to both the high-modernist template of the artist as antidomestic, antisentimental, isolated, and elite?
- 3. How do these autobiographies use the available templates for authorship to either work with or against the type of public image these authors already enjoyed or deplored throughout their careers?
- 4. How much do these autobiographers embrace or reject the notions of female solidarity, feminist activism, writing for financial motives, or being a role model for aspiring authors?
To answer these crucial questions, each chapter in this project reconstructs the composition and reception of these autobiographies through reviews, drafts, letters, and biographical research. The reactions of editors, readers, and critics to each text disclose how successfully these autobiographers navigated touchy topics such as genius, feminism, celebrity, sexuality, and money.
Examining the rhetorical and narrative choices these autobiographers made reveals how skillfully each author uses or combines the artist, activist, professional, or celebrity templates to frame her life-story. Borrowing from the templates allowed these writers simultaneously to satisfy and subvert the expectations of their multiple critical and commercial audiences and reveal shifting dynamics in the public’s understanding of modern authorship. The dynamics within these literary autobiographies illustrate that these women were not just writing their lives—they were rewriting them in the context of many other popular and critical narratives about them. To this end, each chapter traces a pair of authors’ reconstructions of their careers along the lines of one of the four templates and analyzes the various types of resistance to unwanted interpretations that their choice of textually constructed self-image employs. In chapter 1, I delineate how Edith Wharton’s A Backward Glance and Grace King’s Memories of a Southern Woman of Letters assert strong artistic identities through textual erasures of people and events that might contradict their coherent trajectory of apprenticeship to mastery. Chapter 2 examines how Gertrude Atherton and Margaret Anderson, who had always enjoyed their celebrity notoriety, denounce all personal and professional boundaries in Adventures of a Novelist and My Thirty Years’ War. Chapter 3 traces the ways in which Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Margaret Deland’s If This Be I downplay questions of art in favor of activism. Chapter 4 demonstrates how Mary Austin and Harriet Monroe dispersed the tension between the conflicting elements of their narratives through creating multiple autobiographical voices and emphasizing their identities as regional visionaries. Chapter 5 argues that middlebrow writers Mary Roberts Rinehart’s and Edna Ferber’s stunning popularity may have stemmed from their insistence on a female professionalism that does not reject domesticity, allowing them to assert an “American Everywoman” image in My Story and A Peculiar Treasure. Finally, chapter 6 analyzes the success of the veiled autobiographies of Gertrude Stein and Carolyn Wells. These authors crafted a series of strategic diversions in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and The Rest of My Life, employing humor to amuse their audiences into submission with what they reveal or conceal, and creating a uniquely populist appeal for their personal brands of genius.
In order to facilitate the pairing of books that utilize the same templates and techniques, the autobiographies are not treated in chronological order. Instead, the chapters progress from analyzing texts that conform most closely to a preexisting template or autobiographical tradition first, and move toward examining those autobiographies that either reject a preexisting template or attempt to create a new one. Ordering the pairings in this way also allows me to better demonstrate not only the influence these authors had on one another’s careers but the implicit conversation (or, in a couple of cases, the overt debate) that was taking place both within and between these autobiographies. Finally, this nonchronological method invites us to perceive how important the 1930s were in breaking down barriers for the next generation of female literary autobiographers, as the chapters also progress from treating the least to the most innovative texts.
The choices these autobiographers made, and the templates they adopted, adapted, or dismantled, tell us something about the sources of this generation’s confidence and consternation as women writers. The difficult task of acknowledging both their past achievements and their ongoing frustrations in their autobiographies illuminates the self-censorship and rhetorical gamesmanship that have frustrated readers of these texts for nearly a century. Perhaps those difficulties explain why these authors’ “official” literary autobiographies are not the only ways in which these women sought to tell their life-stories. Many of them also left other unpublished biographical or autobiographical material behind, fictionalized their careers in other stories, or published literary criticism of their own. Studying these texts in juxtaposition with their unpublished and semi-autobiographical material and with the works of biographers and historians, we can see that in the tumultuous climate of the 1930s, these autobiographers risked writing self-mutilating narratives with fears of their own effectiveness as portraiture. To read these autobiographies together in their shared cultural context offers us a greater understanding of the ways in which these authors’ private senses of identity reflected or conflicted with their public images in the marketplace.
1. Peter Conn, The American 1930s: A Literary History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 107.
2. Christopher Morley, “Effendi,” Saturday Review of Literature, July 17, 1946, 4.
3. John Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing in the United States (New York: Bowker, 1978), 3:542, 564.
4. Tebbel, History of Book Publishing, 3:427–429, 433, 489.
5. Janet Montefiore, Men and Women Writers of the 1930s: The Dangerous Flood of History (London: Routledge, 1996).
6. Arthur Hobson Quinn, ed., The Literature of the American People: An Historical and Critical Survey (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951), 981.
7. T. J. Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (New York: Basic, 1994).
8. Gordon Hutner, What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 117; James D. Hart, The Popular Book: A History of America’s Literary Taste (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950).
9. Conn, The American 1930s, 8.
10. Mark Longaker, Contemporary Biography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1934), 3.
11. Conn, The American 1930s, 149–150, 127.
12. Ann Lane, To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (New York: Pantheon, 1990), 343.
13. David Welky, Everything Was Better in America: Print Culture in the Great Depression (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 83, 114, 119.
14. Walker Gilmer, Horace Liveright: Publisher of the Twenties (New York: David Lewis, 1970), 97–98; Emily Wortis Leider, California’s Daughter: Gertrude Atherton and Her Times (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991), 328.
15. Esther Stineman, Mary Austin: Song of a Maverick (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989), 190.
16. Carolyn Wells, The Rest of My Life (London: Lippincott, 1937), 13.
17. Arthur Colton, “Mrs. Atherton’s Life,” Saturday Review of Literature, May 28, 1932, 54.
18. Mary Ellen Chase, “A Bright Lady,” Commonwealth, July 27, 1932, 334.
19. Percy Hutchison, “Mrs. Wharton Recalls an Era: Brownstone New York and Europe Share in Her Backward Glance,” in Edith Wharton: The Contemporary Reviews, ed. James Tuttleton, Kristin O. Lauer, and Margaret P. Murray (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 514–15; Edward Sackville-West, “War and Peace,” in Tuttleton, Lauer, and Murray, eds., Edith Wharton, 524; Arvin Newton, “The Age of Innocence,” in Tuttleton, Lauer, and Murray, eds., Edith Wharton, 522–23.
20. Katherine Woods, “Edna Ferber and Her America,” New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1939, 30; “Mrs. Deland Recalls,” Saturday Review of Literature, January 11, 1936, 18.
21. Patricia Meyer Spacks, The Female Imagination (New York: Knopf, 1975), 181.
22. Valerie Sanders, The Private Lives of Victorian Women (New York: St. Martin’s, 1989), 9, 17, 1.
23. Sanders, Private Lives, 14.
24. Sidonie Smith, “Resisting the Gaze of Embodiment: Woman’s Autobiography in the Nineteenth Century,” in American Women’s Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, ed. Margo Culley (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 79.
25. Margo Culley, “‘What a Piece of Work Is Woman’: An Introduction,” in Culley, ed., American Women’s Autobiography, 13.
26. Sanders, Private Lives, 6–8.
27. Estelle Jelinek, The Tradition of Women’s Autobiography from Antiquity to the Present (Boston: Twayne, 1986), 90.
28. Ann Gordon, “The Political Is the Personal: Two Autobiographies of Woman Suffragists,” in Culley, ed., American Women’s Autobiography, 112–113.
29. Jelinek, Tradition, 97, 124.
30. Jelinek, Tradition, 90–92.
31. Martha Watson, Lives of Their Own: Rhetorical Dimensions in Autobiographies of Women Activists (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999).
32. Jelinek, Tradition, 92, 128.
33. Tebbel, History of Book Publishing, 3:210.
34. Sanders, Private Lives, 138.
35. Jelinek, Tradition, 132.
36. Mary Kelley, Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984).
37. Susan Ware, Holding Their Own: American Women in the 1930s (Boston: Twayne, 1982), 173.
38. Phillipe Lejeune, On Autobiography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 160; Georges Gusdorf, “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography,” in Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, ed. James Olney (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 28–48; Roy Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960).
39. Smith, “Resisting the Gaze,” 81, 83; Domna Stanton, “Autogynography,” New York Literary Forum 12–13 (1984): 15.
40. Culley, “‘What a Piece of Work Is Woman,’” 8.
41. Julia Watson, “Towards an Anti-Metaphysics of Autobiography,” in The Culture of Autobiography, ed. Robert Folkenfilk (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993), 71; Helen Buss, “Bios in Women’s Autobiography,” a/b: Auto-Biography Studies 10, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 114.
42. Sarah MacDonald, “Relationality in Working Women’s Autobiography,” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 8, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 1–19. See also Regina Gagnier, Subjectivities: A History of Self-Representation in Britain, 1832–1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).
43. Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933; reprint New York: Stellar Classics, 2013), 30.
44. William Howarth, “Some Principles of Autobiography,” New Literary History 5, no. 2 (Winter 1974): 378.
45. Lejeune, On Autobiography, 151, 146.
46. Jeanne Braham, Crucial Conversations: Interpreting Contemporary American Literary Autobiographies by Women (New York: Columbia Teachers College Press, 1995).
47. Sally Mitchell, “Frances Power Cobbe’s Life and the Rules for Women’s Autobiography,” ELT 50, no. 2 (2007): 131–157, 132 (quotation).
48. Linda Peterson, “Female Autobiographer, Narrative Duplicity,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 23, no. 2 (1992): 81.
49. Barret Mandel, “Full of Life Now,” in Olney, ed., Autobiography, 72.
50. Joseph Hergesheimer, “The Feminine Nuisance in American Literature,” Yale Review 10 (July 1921): 718.
51. Tebbel, History of Book Publishing, 3:49.
52. Quinn, Literature of the American People, 974–975.
53. Elizabeth Ammons, Conflicting Stories: American Women Writers at the Turn into the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 16; Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Macmillan, 1998). McGovern’s actual words were “virility impulse” in his 1966 work, but Ammons summarizes his findings well with her term “virility response.”
54. Elaine Showalter, Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), 108.
55. Nathaniel West, The Complete Works of Nathaniel West (New York: Farrar, 1957), 82, 83.
56. Catherine Turner, Marketing Modernism between the Two World Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).
57. Mary Roberts Rinehart, My Story (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1931), 111.
58. Ammons, Conflicting Stories, 123.
59. Linda Wagner-Martin, “Wharton and Gender,” in Edith Wharton in Context, ed. Laura Rattray (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 243–245.
60. Leider, California’s Daughter, 220.
61. Joseph Collins, Taking the Literary Pulse (New York: Doran, 1924), 48.
62. Susan Koppleman, “Fannie Hurst’s Short Stories of Working Women—‘Oats for the Woman,’ ‘Sob Sister,’ and Contemporary Reader Responses: A Meditation,” in American Women Short Story Writers: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Julie Brown (New York: Garland, 1995), 137–152, 141 (quotation).
63. Ammons, Conflicting Stories, 127; Grant Overton, The Women Who Make Our Novels (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1918).
64. Gertrude Atherton, Adventures of a Novelist, 3rd ed. (New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1932), 544.
65. Bonnie Kime Scott, introduction, in The Gender of Modernism: A Critical Anthology, ed. Bonnie Kime Scott (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 2.
66. See particularly Atherton’s Tower of Ivory (New York: Hearst, 1910); Wharton’s The Touchstone (New York: Scribner’s, 1900); and Austin’s No. 26 Jayne Street (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920).
67. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987), 1:188.
68. Hergesheimer, “The Feminine Nuisance in American Literature,” 725.
69. Gaye Tuchman’s study Edging Women Out: Victorian Novelists, Publishers, and Social Change (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989).
70. Susan Albertine, introduction, in A Living of Words: American Women in Print Culture, ed. Susan Albertine (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), xiii.
71. Thomas Strychacz, Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 27.
72. Rinehart, My Story (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1931), 383.
73. Showalter, Sister’s Choice, 117, 125; Howard Mumford Jones and Ernest Erwin Leisy, eds., Major American Writers (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935).
74. Quinn, Literature of the American People, 973, 974.
75. Strychacz, Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism, 27.
76. Gilbert and Gubar, No Man’s Land, 100.
77. Showalter, Sister’s Choice, 104, 120.
78. Wharton, diary entry, 1924, in The Unpublished Writings of Edith Wharton, ed. Laura Rattray (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009), 2:211.
79. Showalter, Sister’s Choice, 107.
80. George Hellman, “Of Life and Letters and Margaret Deland,” New York Times, December 7, 1941, 17.
81. Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).
82. Elizabeth Evasdaughter, “Autobiographical Closure in the Future:Women Constructing Hope,” a/b: Autobiography Studies 9, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 115–133, 115 (quotation).
83. Marysa Demoor, introduction, in Marketing the Author: Authorial Personae, Narrative Selves, and Self-Fashioning, 1880–1930, ed. Marysa Demoor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 6, 8.
84. Grace King, To Find My Own Peace: Grace King in Her Journals, 1886–1910, ed. Melissa Heidari (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), 54.
85. King, To Find My Own Peace, 54.
86. Timothy Galow, “Literary Modernism in the Age of Celebrity,” Modernism/Modernity 17, no. 2 (April 2010): 313–329, 314 (quotation).
87. Quinn, Literature of the American People, 981.
88. Karen J. Blair, The Torchbearers: Women and Their Amateur Arts Associations in America, 1890–1930 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 4, 181.
89. Margaret Harriman, The Vicious Circle: The Story of the Algonquin Round Table (New York: Rinehart, 1951), 2.
90. Wells, The Rest of My Life, 17.
91. Stanley J. Kunitz, Living Authors (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1931), 12, 13, 139, 316, 336, 434, 421.
92. Lejeune, On Autobiography, 3,161, 29, 22.
93. Augusta Fink, I-Mary: A Biography of Mary Austin (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1983), 248, 250.
94. Tebbel, History of Book Publishing, 3:445, 430.
95. Welky, Everything Was Better in America, 153.
96. Martha Banta, Imaging American Women: Idea and Ideals in Cultural History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 78, 66.
97. Christopher P. Wilson, The Labor of Words: Literary Professionalism in the Progressive Era (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985), 193.
98. Stineman, Mary Austin, 190.
99. Elaine Showalter, ed., These Modern Women: Autobiographical Essays from the Twenties (New York: Feminist Press, 1993), 3.
100. Hutner, What America Read, 136.
101. Wilson, Labor of Words, 82.
102. Showalter, Sister’s Choice, 15.
103. Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 102.
104. Charles A. Madison, Book Publishing in America (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966), 289.
105. Edith Wharton to Gaillard Lapsley, March 2, 1933, The Letters of Edith Wharton, ed. R. W. B. Lewis and Nancy Lewis (New York: Scribner’s, 1988), 557.
106. Fink, I-Mary, 247.
107. Wharton to Rutger B. Jewett, April 29, 1933, Lewis and Lewis, eds., Letters, 558–59.
108. Jan Cohn, Improbable Fiction: The Life of Mary Roberts Rinehart (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), 176.
109. Mary Austin, A Woman of Genius (New York: Feminist Press, 1985), 3–4.