Female Resources for Writing” offers guidance for female writers, who, the condescending author points out, excel in delineating character — if not in plotting. Expectedly sexist in its conclusion, the piece also offers a look at expectations of what made good literature; unlike other works on books, it doesn’t malign fiction.


http://www.merrycoz.org/books/FEMALE.xhtml
“Female Resources for Writing,” by P. P. (from the Boston Lyceum, August 1827; pp. 68-70)

In the present competition for literary fame, when novels, fables, essays, letters and sketches, are thickly clustering around us, it may not be amiss to consider what paths of literature are most accessible to the female pilgrim. It is true, that not many remain untrodden, and that it would be difficult for the most brilliant imagination to strike into one wholly new, unless indeed some literary Semiramis were to ascend to the heights of epic poetry, and present the world with a poem that would rival Homer, Dante, or Milton. In that case there is little doubt that she might walk, in solitary grandeur, the lonely monopolizer of immortality. But although no woman has yet accomplished this task, there are still many species of composition within her reach,—particularly at the present period, when, by the prevalent system of education, all the treasures of knowledge

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are unlocked. Formerly, a woman in New-England was considered well educated if she had “cyphered beyond the single rule of three,” had a tolerable knowledge of Dilworth’s spelling-book, could say Guthrie’s grammar by heart, (an acquaintance with the application of its rules was unnecessary,) find the latitude and longitude of Boston and London, and perform a few problems on the globe. Yet even in those dark days women wrote, and often made up in quantity what they wanted in quality; but now that they receive their inspiration from the purest sources, and are educated by the wise and the learned, there is no reason why they should not contribute their part towards the improvements of mankind.

No compositions are more generally interesting, than the delineations of character, and for this graphic art, the mind of woman is particularly adapted. Nature has given her a quick perception of what is fair and beautiful, that is infinitely more valuable than the deductions of reason. It may not be her province to portray man in the bold and active scenes of life, to describe the conqueror in his career of sanguinary glory, or the hero when he “plucks bright honour from the moon;” nor yet to thread the mazy paths of the statesman or the politician; but perhaps this is the least satisfactory method of drawing characters. It is for the nice and almost imperceptible shades of feeling that we search; and situation and action are useful only for the developement of the operations of the mind. It is the happy union of these auxiliaries that gives their superiority to the Waverly novels.

Madame de Stael’s romances have little merit as to plot or incident, but, in the delicate delineation of thought and feeling, they lead the soul a willing captive. What could have given the charm to Richardson’s novels, but his happy art of pourtraying [sic] characters by their own thoughts and sensations? How few events are scattered through the sixteen ponderous volumes of Sir Charles Grandison and Clarissa Harlow? (for such was the magnitude of the first English edition,) and yet even at this day the intensity of interest which they excite is acknowledged by people of cultivated taste.

In this department of accurate delineation, woman assumes a rank equal, if not superior, to that of men. Added to a finer tact, she has a better opportunity of studying character. Men shut up their hearts from each other, but to the gentler sex they are confiding, and are not ashamed to discover the tenderness, the sympathy, and the sensibility of their nature; their af-

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fections, frozen by prudence and worldly intercourse, grow liquid in the presence of an intelligent and feeling woman.

It is often said that our country is wanting in incident for novel writers, but if it is rich in variety of character, we have the best materials. Where the hand of the Creator spreads his rainbow hues over the mind, there may always be found enough to give interest to any work of fiction. We would not say that the tale is unimportant: it ought to illustrate and bring out the distinguishing features and passions of human character; but this is its highest and most valuable purpose.

There have been attempts in our mother country to make novels the vehicles of religious instruction, but we think unsuccessfully. “Cœlebs in search of a wife,” was perhaps the most approved of this class, but he seems to have walked his round, obtained his bride, and retired into obscurity; while other works of the same author, particularly those on “Female Education,” and “Practical Piety,” still maintain a high rank in the literary world. Yet though novels and tales may not be calculated for religious or doctrinal instruction, yet they ought to be the vehicles of exalted sentiment, and imbued with rational and enlightened piety. It is not an inconsequential thing to write for the public; the works of an author, unless they are insignificant, must produce a good or ill effect; they immediately take their station in a Circulating Library, and go from house to house till a new work succeeds the old. In France, novels have been issued and circulated, as fatal in their effects as the poisoned letter that destroyed the being who opened it. Thanks to our purer state of society, such works would not be tolerated here; but next to disseminating evil, is the frivolous waste of time into which a worthless novel seduces the young and idle.

It would be wise for every female to weigh well her own powers before she attempt to publish, and above all her motives. If she seek celebrity, she will probably be disappointed; but if she write with the humble but earnest desire of contributing her mite towards the improvement and happiness of society, though she may fail in the great meed of an Author, literary fame, she will at least reap the reward of improving herself.

Copyright 1999-2017, Pat Pflieger
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