A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter (review by Andrew R. ’17)

A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie ProulxA Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ours is a young nation, and its literature is a young literature. But in A Jury of Her Peers: American Women’s Writing from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, feminist scholar Elaine Showalter profiles the enormous amount of progressive, boundary-pushing material that’s come out of America since the days of the Pilgrims. The writers featured in this encyclopedic book—more of a literary reference guide than a readable chronological account, although a few chapters are marked exceptions—tend to weigh toward the nineteenth century, with novelists like Harriet Beecher Stowe getting far more individual attention than the more modern women writers whose names come to mind when we think back on American literature. Civil War–era authors like Catherine Sedgwick may be in more dire need of recognition than better-known writers, but, with familiar names like Dorothy Parker and Flannery O’Connor on their way a few chapters later, it’s hard for the reader to stay invested in the dustier, more distant history of these early chapters. The core of the book is a long, engaging, and appealingly written dual portrait of Wharton and Cather. If Showalter had adopted this storytelling mode for the rest of the book, A Jury of Her Peers would have been not just informative but enjoyable, too. – Andrew R. ’17

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