Private Woman, Public Stage

Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America

By Mary Kelley

With a new preface by the author

432 pp., 6 x 9, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5422-8
    Published: September 2002
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-1738-1
    Published: November 2017

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In the decades spanning the nineteenth century, thousands of women entered the literary marketplace. Twelve of the century's most successful women writers provide the focus for Mary Kelley's landmark study: Maria Cummins, Caroline Howard Gilman, Caroline Lee Hentz, Mary Jane Holmes, Maria McIntosh, Sara Parton, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Virginia Terhune, Susan Warner, and Augusta Evans Wilson. These women shared more than commercial success. Collectively they created fictions that Kelley terms "literary domesticity," books that both embraced and called into question the complicated expectations shaping the lives of so many nineteenth-century women. Matured in a culture of domesticity and dismissed by a male writing establishment, they struggled to reconcile public recognition with the traditional roles of wife and mother.

Drawing on the 200 volumes of published prose and on the letters, diaries, and journals of these writers, Kelley explores the tensions that accompanied their unprecedented literary success. In a new preface, she discusses the explosion in the scholarship on writing women since the original 1984 publication of Private Woman, Public Stage and reflects on the book's ongoing relevance.

About the Author

Mary Kelley is a Collegiate Professor of History, American Culture, and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. Previously, she was the Mary Brinsmead Wheelock Professor of History at Dartmouth College. Among her most recent books are The Portable Margaret Fuller and The Power of Her Sympathy: The Autobiography and Journal of Catharine Maria Sedgwick.
For more information about Mary Kelley, visit the Author Page.


"Kelley offers a richly detailed account plentiful with new findings."--American Historical Review

"The beauty of Private Woman, Public Stage is its artful merging of U.S. history, women's history, and literature."--Choice

"An illuminating and sensitive analysis of those complex women and their place in American culture."--Journal of American History

"In Kelley's deft hands, the writers' contributions to subsequent generations seem even more profound. . . . Those who enter the world of Southworth, Stowe, and the other literary domestics will be grateful that these women novelists did not after all remain (to paraphrase one of them) in the obscurity of their homes."--Women's Review of Books