Those of your who follow me on Instagram – @arcontifulwell – probably already saw this photo of one of my favorite novels – The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton – sandwiched between an author I believe is highly overrated – Hawthorne – and an author that doesn’t get the credit he deserves – Hugo. Isn’t that ironic?
Now before you go verbally assaulting me for voluntarily bashing American Renaissance fiction, hear me out.
As far as Hawthorne goes, I commend him for his achievements. Like speakers have the gift to gab, writers have the cadeau to compose. (You see what I did there?) Hawthorne has the cadeau. I don’t deny that; however, he was quite a sore loser. At one point in history, he was noted as being incredibly upset because his books weren’t selling. Now as an author I can relate to that. The last thing any published author wants is for their books to be sitting on that horrendous invisible shelf collecting invisible dust and nobody quite knows why. I feel for Hawthorne, I do, but here’s the rest of the story. If his masterpieces – The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance – weren’t selling, then what was selling?
I’m so glad you asked.
Books like Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World, Fanny Fern’s (writing as Sara Payson Willis Parton) Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin – and the list goes on.
See any common themes here?
You guessed it – they’re all written by women.
For anyone who has read Stowe’s epic, and at times dramatic, novel, there is no doubt why Hawthorne went to his publisher in 1855 in a scathing letter complaining about these ladies’ success. So why weren’t Hawthorne’s books selling? Who would choose a tale of moral ambiguity – The Scarlet Letter – over the fruition of a then modern world Kentucky, faced with the harsh reality of slavery – Uncle Tom’s Cabin?
You’ve heard of The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank because there are so many)? Well these were the real housewives of the Pre-Civil War era.
Imagine a bunch of ladies who spend their time day in and day out maneuvering hoop skirts by day, and crying themselves to sleep at night, yearning for something more. Why educate these women? After all, at the time, their greatest accomplishment was getting married, so once they learned the difference between a soup spoon and a bouillon spoon, what else did they have to learn?
I don’t know about you, but that seriously gets under my skin.
Bottom line – women during this time were bored. So what did they do to pass the time? You guessed it. They picked up the “sentimental” novels of their more successful female counterparts, and indulged. Is that such a crime? I can tell you one thing, the day I hear of a school assigning works of Fanny Fern to their students, I will donate generously to their budget. (Hopefully I’ll be a millionaire by then).
Nevertheless, I’ve got to be objective and give credit where credit is due. I just wish that everyone had that superpower, and not just me.