PT. 2 Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Who was she?

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s was a writer, editor, social activist and lecturer: during her lifetime, producing over 180 short stories, 9 serialised novels, 3 poetry collections, 10 nonfiction books and a countless number of nonfiction essays and articles as well as lectures. Although she was perhaps more theorist than literary genius, some of the pieces she wrote, including Herland, Women and Economics and The Man-Made World, are genuinely remarkable for their radicalism, progressiveness and imagination.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1860, Gilman’s father left the family during her infancy. Consequently, she spent much of her early life in poverty, having to relocate often in order to stay with various relatives across the United States. Perhaps because of this Gilman was not inclined to marry, and, when she did, the relationship ended in a controversial divorce. During this marriage, Gilman gave birth to her only child, Katharine, fell into a dark bout of postpartum depression and was prescribed a rest cure, a period that has been well documented in the reception of her most famous work, the short story, ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’.

During the 1890s Gilman became actively involved in various social reform movements and published her first collection of poetry, a satirical series entitled In This Our World, in 1893. She also began to lecture, initially on nationalism and ultimately on a vast range of topics from women’s equality, ethics, human rights and social reform. Between 1909 and 1916 Gilman single-handedly wrote, edited, and published The Forerunner, a magazine with a readership of 1500 subscribers, which became the main forum for the publication of a wide range of her writing including short stories, serialized versions of her novels and utopian fiction, and her sociological writings, including The Man-Made World or Our Androcentric Culture.

Gilman’s second marriage, to her cousin George Houghton Gilman, was a happy one until his sudden death in 1934. In 1932, Gilman herself learnt that she had terminal breast cancer, and, knowing that she was dying, overdosed on chloroform in August 1935.

Writing:

For Gilman, writing was an intrinsic aspect of her social reform; she believed ‘writing is precisely the very possibility of change, the space that can serve as a springboard for subversive thought, the precursory movement of a transformation of social and cultural structures.’ While Gilman’s career as a lecturer and orator was often first and foremost in her mind, and its influence can be felt within many of her works, she recognized the unique power of the written word, stating:

We live, humanly, only through our power of communication. Speech gives us this power laterally, as it were, in immediate personal contact. […] Literature gives not only an infinite multiplication to the lateral spread of communion but adds the vertical reach. Through it we know the past, govern the present, and influence the future.

The written word’s appeal came from its permanence; its tangible form that enables both a ‘lateral spread’ – its dissemination through space – and a ‘vertical reach’ – its residual power through time. Unlike her lectures, which were restricted to a specific spatio-temporal environment and necessarily warped through repetition, the written word remained unchanged for future readers, maintaining its rhetoric impact.

Perhaps unusually however, the kind of writing Gilman focused on was not just theoretical or nonfictional, but fictional and literary, those ‘powerful addition[s] to [one’s] armoury.’ Gilman’s work shows extensive and masterful experimentation with various prose and lyric genres, often drawing upon the historical conventions of parable, fable, legend or homily: from the allegorical ‘An Extinct Angel’ to the fantasy ‘When I was a Witch,’ or ‘An Unnatural Mother,’ which takes the form of a legend retold through the voices of certain female locals. However, despite their disparate genres and styles, Gilman’s writing shares a uniform didactic intentionality. Gilman was well aware that the power fiction could play in calling upon the sympathies of one’s reader and rallying them into political action.

The influence of Gilman’s career as a lecturer can be felt throughout her work, as she transgresses what Cixous calls, ‘that scission, that division made by the common man between the logic of oral speech and the logic of the text.’ Stories such as ‘The Widow’s Might’ and ‘Mr Peeble’s Heart’ could be seen as written homilies in their use of simplistic characterisation, generic structure, and clear moral evaluation. These stories consistently offer practical solutions to escape the drudgery of sterile marriages, solutions that combine intellectual and personal stimulation with economic independence, inevitably resulting in mutual satisfaction for both husband and wife. Often Gilman includes exact monetary sums and explicit instructions for her readers, portraying women who establish their own commercial enterprises that scope from personal shopping (‘Mrs Elder’s Idea’), to crèches (‘Making a Change’), to housekeeping businesses (‘What Diantha Did’). Gilman’s stories are not only fictionally engaging but are also actively instructive.

Ultimately, Gilman absorbs the ‘logic’ of orality into her written stories and consequently creates an innovative generic hybridity. In many ways, her writing, although perhaps less sophisticated, seems to anticipate the stylistic fluidity and discursiveness of Virginia Woolf’s polemic or theoretical works Three Guineas and A Room of One’s Own, in which Woolf integrates fictional asides in order to illustrate her point and maintain the reader/listener’s attention and imagination.

Fun Fact:

  1. Via her father, Frederic Beecher Perkins, Gilman was the great granddaughter of Lyman Beecher and the great-niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  2. Gilman coined the term ‘androcentric’, meaning focused or centered on men.

What kind of legacy did she leave?

This question is best left to scholars of Gilman’s work: as Ann Lane writes in Herland and Beyond, ‘Gilman offered perspectives on major issues of gender with which we still grapple; the origins of women’s subjugation, the struggle to achieve both autonomy and intimacy in human relationships; the central role of work as a definition of self; new strategies for rearing and educating future generations to create a humane and nurturing environment.’

Current interest?

Gilman is perhaps one of the better known female writers of this period. In academic circles there has been and remains a fair amount of interest in her work, perhaps more so in America, but sadly she remains relatively overlooked in public readership. Encouraged partly by feminist presses in the 1970s who somewhat reclaimed certain of her works, most reader’s knowledge of her work includes ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, and sometimes Herland. Oddly, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is somewhat singular in Gilman’s oevre with most of her work employing very different styles and tones, which might account for this lack of sustained interest. However, while many of her fictional stories can seem somewhat forcedly polemical, their brevity and accessibility make them worth a read, while her theoretical works offer a fascinating insight into the sociological and economic debates of Gilman’s time.


Further Reading:

Biographical:

  • The best biography is Cynthia J. Davis’ Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Biography.

Access to Works:

  • Amazingly the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard have uploaded a huge amount of Gilman’s writing to this online archive.
  • There’s also this website dedicated to her, which is pretty good despite its questionable font choices.
  • If you prefer hard copy books then the Penguin edition of Herland & Collected Works is a good place to start!

General/Academic:

  • If you would like a comprehensive critical bibliography you can find one here.

However, online access to articles about Gilman’s work include:

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Pt.1 George Egerton

Who was she?

Mary Chavelita Bright Dunne known by her pseudonym George Egerton.

Although born in Australia in 1859 to Welsh and Irish parents, after her mother’s death, Egerton settled in Ireland with her father and younger siblings. The maternal death also ended Egerton’s ideas of becoming an artist, instead she was forced to train as a nurse. In 1880, Egerton eloped with a married man, Henry Higgins, to Norway, whom she married in 1888 and divorced two years later. Despite only living in Norway for a few years, Egerton learnt the language and was exposed to the work of Nietzsche, Ibsen and Knut Hamsun (to whom her first collection was dedicated) who were to have an important influence on her writing. After her divorce Egerton remarried and returned to Ireland. Her second husband Egerton Tertius Clairmonte was a failing author and their economic situation forced Egerton to take up her own pen for income. As her biographer and nephew Terence de Vere White wrote, ‘Her elopement with Higginson gave her the material for a book; her second husband, by his dependence on her, gave her the motive to employ it.’

Egerton’s first collection, Keynotes, was published by John Lane and Elkin Matthews of Bodley Head when she was 34, and sold 6,000 copies evidencing her contemporary popularity. However, Egerton also faced harsh criticism for her progressive portrayals of women and sometimes polemical narration, and was famously lampooned in Punch in the parodic piece ‘Borgia Smudgerton’. Subsequently, much of her later and perhaps more experimental work fell into obscurity and she died in 1945 aged 86.

Writing:

Egerton mainly wrote short stories which were published in collections, including Keynotes (1893), Discords (1894), Symphonies (1897) and Flies in Amber (1905), and in the periodicals/little magazines of the day such as Henry Harland’s The Yellow Book. Egerton also published a collection of Nietzschean fables: Fantasias (1898), and two novels: The Wheel of God (1898) and Rosa Amorosa (1901) which is partly biographical, as well as several stage plays.

Egerton herself knew her formal comfort zone; ‘I was a short, at most a long story, writer. For years they came in droves and said themselves, leaving no scope for padding or altered endings; the long book was not my pigeon.’ Egerton describes her creative process as both spontaneous and informal, telling her nephew in 1930 that she had written the stories for Keynotes, ‘straight off […] ‘The Little Grey Glove’ on the back of an upturned tea-tray after supper in the gauger’s cottage near Millstreet, Co. Cork.’

Why is she interesting?

Egerton is often linked with the aestheticism of the 1890s and more specifically the ‘New Women’ movement, including authors such as Oscar Wilde, Henry Harland, Ella D’Arcy and Vernon Lee. Despite this connection, Egerton explicitly rejected any affiliation with women’s suffrage or feminist writers stating, ‘I had, contrary to opinion, no propaganda in view – no emancipation theory to propound, no equality to illumine.’ Ironically, I would argue that much of Egerton’s prose falls foul of just what she denies: her propaganda. In A Room of One’s Own Woolf accuses Charlotte Brontë of a rage that leaves her books ‘deformed and twisted’; she says Bronte was ‘at war with her lot’, full of an anger at her societal position that disrupted and undermined the genius of her writing. Egerton did not perhaps possess the genius of Brontë and her sometimes page-long ‘editorial’ digressions totally distract from the beauty of her prose. In ‘Now Spring Has Come’, for example, the first person narrator turns from a description of events to an anger-fuelled rant that has far more of Egerton’s voice than her own:

What half creatures we are, we women! – hermaphrodite by force of circumstances, deformed results of a fight of centuries between physical suppression and natural impulses to fulfil our destiny.

Writing retrospectively in 1930, Egerton instead summarises her motivations for writing in the following words:

I realised that in literature, everything had been better done by man than woman could hold to emulate. There was only one small plot left for her to tell: the terra incognita of herself, as she knew herself to be, not as man liked to imagine her – in a word, to give herself away, as man had given himself to writings.

The narrative forms Egerton employs are conducive to this desire for intimate self-expression, while her eschewal of linear plot in favour of temporally fragmented vignettes foregrounds the psychological interior of her characters. For example, the stories ‘A Psychological Moment’ and ‘Now Spring has Come’ are both constructed through a collection of disparate memories that have seemingly little connection; something which forces the reader to extrapolate meaning. This structural and formal experimentalism has led many critics to label her as a ‘protomodernist’; what Showalter refers to as the ‘missing link’ between the complex narratives of Victorian novelists and the self-conscious high modernism of the early 20th Century. Many of the stories included in Egerton’s first two collections Keynotes and Discords are constructed through oral narratives; spoken confidences, confessions or conversations that allow her female characters to ‘give herself away’, often (within the story) to a sympathetic audience in the form of another female character.

Egerton’s essentialist approach to gender isolated her from the suffrage movement and is perhaps what has made some of her work slightly distasteful to modern audiences, however her writing is undeniably an important lens through which to view the waning of Victorian norms and ideals about gender and society.

Fun Fact:

Translated Knut Hamsun’s first novel, Hunger, into English and was credited with the first reference to Nietzsche in English literature, 10 years before his work was first translated into English.

 

What kind of legacy did she leave?

  • Thomas Hardy in Jude the Obscure, stated that Sue Bridgehead was influenced by Egerton’s writing and her own life.
  • Similarities can be traced between the writing of Egerton and D.H. Lawrence, due to their mutual interest in Nietzsche’s philosophy.
  • It’s been noted that The Wheel of God reads as a sort of rudimentary template for Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Current interest?

Much of Egerton’s work remains unpublished since it was first published in the 19th Century. There was a republication of Keynotes and Discords by Virago in 1995, edited by Martha Vicinus and another by Bloomsbury in 2003, with an introduction by Sally Ledger.

There is some academic interest in her work, with a recent two-day conference on her writing in the UK (April 2017), documented here and here. Academics including, Showalter, Gabriel Josopovici and Catherine Maxwell have also written on her work, while she often features in research on fin-de-siècle writing, New Women and Irish writing, and the history of the short story.


Further Reading:

Biographical:

  • A Leaf from The Yellow Book: The Correspondence of George Egerton, ed. by Terence de Vere White (London: Richards, 1958).
  • Great summative article written by Eleanor Fitzsimmons about Egerton’s life.

Online Access to Works:

General/Academic:

IRIS III Cambridge Launch

On Tuesday 13th June, we packed up and headed off to Cambridge for an evening launch event at Granchester’s Orchard Tea Garden.

The event featured readings from six of our wonderful writers, whose work has been featured in IRIS. We kicked off with Arabella Currie, reading a new poem, as she humbly stated, ‘about cows’, followed by Lili Hamlyn who read extracts from her piece ‘Coney Island’ from IRIS II (more to come at the end of this year, when we publish a full collection!), and Harry Long, who again read from a new poem. The second half of the evening featured Leo Temple (IRIS III), who we were thrilled to hear, having read his poems multiple times, and Marek Sullivan (III), before finishing with Camille Ralphs.

We had a wonderful turn out and drinks in abundance. We’d like to thank everyone who came, in particular those readers who traveled from Oxford and London, as well as the organisers of the Orchard, it was a beautiful and relaxed location.

 

Becca Thornton ft. as Artist of the Week

IRIS III contributor, Becca Thornton has been featured as the OR’s Artist of the Week. Becca is from Macclesfield and is in her final year, studying Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art. Her website is here and her Instagram is here.

Her work is stunning in its diversity and precision. The following series is called Shadow Accounts and are ink and pencil drawings on ledger paper, produced at night. We featured two of the series in IRIS, but here is a wider selection.

Becca’s work will be featured in the Ruskin Fine Art Degree Show, opening on Friday 16th June.

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IRIS Contributors Ft. in The Oxonian Review

We’re so happy to see two of our writers from IRIS have been featured in The Oxonian Review – an online publication run by University of Oxford Graduates.

You can see the brilliant Leo Temple’s poems  (IRIS III) here.

As well as a review of S-Town by Lili Hamlin, here, whose piece ‘Coney Island’ was featured in IRIS II. The Press will be publishing a full-length collection of Lili’s work later this year.

The Little Review: A Review

HSP’s book of the month is – in commemoration (and anticipation) of the IRIS III finale and launch – not a book, but a magazine: Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review.

Anderson founded the magazine in 1914, and with the help of partner Jane Heap and editor Ezra Pound, published a selection of hugely influential modernist writings and art, including the first serialisation of Joyce’s Ulysses, and works by Mina Loy, William Carlos Williams, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, among many others.  

Envisioned (supposedly) during a troubled sleep, Anderson memorialised the set of thoughts that led her to the publication:

First precise thought: I know why I’m depressed — nothing inspiring is going on. Second: I demand that life be inspired every moment. Third: The only way to guarantee this is to have inspired conversation every moment. Fourth: most people never get so far as conversation; they haven’t the stamina and there is no time. Fifth: if I had a magazine I could spend my time filling it up with the best conversation the world has to offer. Sixth: marvellous idea – salvation. Seventh: decision to do it. Deep sleep[…]

In pursuit of these aims, Anderson proved a difficult editor to satisfy. In lieu of good enough work, in the September 1916 issue, pages 1-13 were blank –  Anderson added a scathing editorial note on the front page:

The Little Review hopes to become a Magazine of Art. The September issue is offered as a Want Ad.

Other issues were equally enigmatic. One was devoted entirely to Henry James (August, 1918 – The Henry James Number, inc. criticism from Pound and Eliot). The final issue consisted of a selection of ‘Confessions and Letters’ from past contributors, responding to a questionnaire written by Jane Heap. The questions were vaguely standard (“What do you look forward to? What do you fear most from the future? What has been the happiest moment of your life?”). Artists and writers alike were unwilling to offer responses. The final editorial was brought to a close by Heap ruminating on the value of editorship, literature, and expression. It finishes, semi-pathetic, semi-optimistic, semi-cliché:

Perhaps the situation is not so hopeless as I have described it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Or perhaps it would be more than an intellectual adventure to give up our obsessions about art, hopelessness, and Little Reviews, and take on pursuits more becoming to human beings.

You can find copies online here: http://modjourn.org/render.php?view=mjp_object&id=LittleReviewCollection (rather than amazon). Or libraries should have them.

 

 

IRIS: Live at Blackwell’s

In the run up to the launch of IRIS III, HSP hosted IRIS: Live on Tuesday 21st February, an evening of readings taken from the first two editions of IRIS. The audience heard Lili Hamlyn reading from ‘Coney Island’, Joe Dodd, Dom Leonard reading ‘Sunrise,’, Harry Long, Ryan Bradley reading from ‘The Lilac Fever’ and an exclusive piece from, HSP poet, Arabella Currie’s latest translation work.

We’d like to take this chance to thank Blackwell’s bookshop, all our contributors for taking part and to every one who came to watch this event.


IWD Panel at Waterstones

On Friday 3rd March, Hurst Street Press hosted a panel discussion in conjunction with the Oxford Poetry Society at Waterstones, in honour of International Women’s Day 2017. We had four fantastic poets – Lili Hamlyn, Sarah Fletcher, Joanna Walsh and Selena Nwulu – discussing their work and their major influences. To begin the evening, each poet was asked to read sections from the work of an author who they saw to be a major influence, as well as some pieces of their own writing. The second part of the evening was structured as a panel discussion chaired by Camille Ralphs (OPS President) and Shoshana Kessler (HSP), this focused on reactions towards feminist labeling, interaction with the literary canon and notions of female form, theme and style. The evening concluded with a poetry open mic, where members of the audience were encouraged to sign up to read a piece of their writing.

It was a fascinating event and we’d like to thank Waterstones for their support, as well as Lili, Sarah, Joanna and Selena, and to everyone who came along to watch.


 

           Joanna Walsh                       Sarah Fletcher                       Lili Hamlyn                                  Selena Nwulu

 

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