By far the most popular United States literature of its time was a body of now-neglected novels written between 1820 and 1870 by, for, and about women. According to Nina Baym, who has termed this genre “woman’s fiction,” the massive popularity of these novels claimed a place for women in the writing profession.
The novels chronicle the experiences of women who, beset with hardships, find within themselves qualities of intelligence, will, resourcefulness, and courage sufficient to overcome their obstacles.
According to Baym, the genre began with Catharine Sedgwick’s New-England Tale (1822), manifested itself as the best-selling reading matter of the American public in the unprecedented sales of Susan Warner’s Wide, Wide World (1850), and remained a dominant fictional type until after 1870.
The critical, as opposed to popular, reception of these novels in their own time was mixed. Theoretical opposition by those who saw fiction as a demoralizing and corrupting influence was by no means dead in mid-nineteenth-century America, and popular successes naturally bore a significant proportion of the attack.
The moralistic tone of much woman’s fiction did not placate these antagonists; on the contrary, many clerical opponents of the novel thought that women were trying to take over the clergy’s functions and hence attacked all the more fiercely. Similarly, some male authors, disgruntled by the emergence of great numbers of women writers, expressed contempt for the genre.
On the other hand, the women had a powerfully ally--their publishers, who not only put these works into print but advertised them widely and enthusiastically. Some few reviewers wrote about these works with attention and respect, distinguishing between the works of the different authors and identifying individual strengths and weaknesses.
These approving contemporary critics were particularly alert to each writer’s contribution to the depiction of American social life, especially to regional differences in manners and character types. On the whole, however, even these laudatory critics showed themselves uninterested in the stories that this fiction told, or in their significance.
Baym acknowledges that these novels are tell--with variations--a single familiar tale, and correctly notes that this apparent lack of artistic innovation has been partly responsible for their authors’ exclusion from the canon of classic American writers traditionally studied in university literature courses.
Baym points out, however, that unlike such male contemporaries as Nathaniel Hawthorne, these women did not conceive of themselves as “artists,” but rather as professional writers with work to do and a living to be made from fulfilling an obligation to their audience.
This obligation included both entertainment and instruction, which are not, says Baym, at odds with one another in these books, nor is entertainment the sweet coating on a didactic pill. Rather, the lesson itself is an entertainment: the central character’s triumph over adversity is profoundly pleasurable to those readers who identify with her.
1. The passage is primarily concerned with
A. Summarizing the major contributions of two influential writers
B. Describing and commenting on a group of literary works
C. Summarizing the major events of a period of literary history
D. Contrasting two types of literary works from the same era
E. Arguing for the adopting of several neglected literary works into university curriculums
2. The author of the passage cites Susan Warner’s Wide, Wide World most probably as an example of a woman’s novel that
A. Had more advanced artistic elements than many of its type
B. Attracted an excessive amount of critical attention
C. Was found to be inappropriately moralistic by many members of the clergy
D. Was significant as an indicator of the genre’s popularity
E. Signaled the gradual decline of the size of the genre’s audience
3. The author of the passage implies which of the following about the members of the clergy mentioned in the first paragraph?
A. They also opposed works of fiction that were outside the genre of woman’s fiction.
B. They opposed journalism as well as imaginative writing.
C. Their influence reached its pinnacle in the mid-nineteenth century.
D. They were unable to obtain the support of other critics for their views.
E. Their attacks on the genre of the novel did not extend to novels written by male writers.
4.Which of the following can be inferred from the passage concerning the majority of the nineteenth-century reviewers of woman’s fiction?
A. They considered the position taken by the clergy in regard to woman’s fiction self-serving.
B. They did not make fine distinctions between different authors.
C. They placed a higher value on plot than on social significance.
D. They subscribed to the view of writers as purveyors of popular entertainment rather than as artists.
E. They felt that the literary market was saturated with novels by and about women.