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Review: "O Pioneers!" by Willa Cather

Published in 1913, O Pioneers! was Willa Cather’s second novel. It centers on a family of Swedish immigrants in rural Nebraska. The main character, Alexandra Bergson, inherits the family farmland when her father dies, and she devotes her life to making the farm a viable enterprise at a time when other immigrant families are giving up and leaving the prairie. Continue reading .

Review: "A Humble Romance and Other Stories" by Mary E Wilkins Freeman


A Humble Romance, first published in 1887 to wide popularity, tells various stories of rural New England folks, mostly women. This collection catches you from its “humble” beginning. Each story is engrossing, yet surprising in its simplicity of characters and plot. Far from beautiful heiresses or men on panting steeds, the main characters are mostly old spinsters and sometimes a plain niece or two. The plot rarely goes beyond a long held grudge or–at the extreme–a woman left at the altar. But the stories pull you in from the start, as if you had known the characters all your life and are unavoidably invested in their fates. Continue reading .

Review: "The Solitary Summer" by Elizabeth von Arnim


First published in 1899, The Solitary Summer picks up where Elizabeth and Her German Garden left off. Instead of a year’s diary of the previous book, this sequel relates a summer in the life of Elizabeth in her patterings about the garden, care of her “babies” and various escapades with servants and towns-folk. The book starts with a premise–Elizabeth is to have a summer free of guests, all to herself and her family and her beloved garden. Elizabeth’s love of nature and solitude wins in the end, and anyone with a love of the same will love this book in turn. Continue reading .

Review: "The Country of the Pointed Firs" by Sarah Orne Jewett


Written in 1896, The Country of Pointed Firs is set in a small village on the coast of Maine, the story is told through the eyes of a female writer and visitor to the town. The novel’s appeal emerges through the colorful description of characters and unique way of life that was rapidly disappearing at the time and by now is long gone. Continue reading .

Review: "Letters of a Woman Homesteader" by Elinore Pruitt Stewart


In 1909, a recent widow and single mother, Elinore Pruitt Stewart accepted a job as housekeeper to a wealthy cattleman in Burntfork, Wyoming. There she she filed on her own land and recorded details of her life on her small ranch. Her letters were written from 1909 to 1913 and walk the line between truth and fiction. Though not originally intended for publication, Stewart later did publish this collection of her letters in 1914. Continue reading .

Review: "The Hawaiian Archipelago" by Isabella L Bird


Published in 1875, The Hawaiian Archipelago depicts a far different Hawaii than the one we see in travelogues or the one made famous by Pearl Harbor. Ms. Bird’s work is significant because of the historical as well as personal perspective she offers. During Bird’s time, one primary concern about Hawaii was its dwindling population and abandonment of once-thriving communities. Her love for the islands and the personal healing she experiences, both physically and psychologically, leaves her in its thrall. Continue reading .

Review: "The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton


The House of Mirth, first published in 1905, is about New York socialite Lily Bart and her attempts to secure a husband amidst the social whirl of New York’s Fifth Avenue at the dawn of the Twentieth Century. Wharton pictures a new class of self-made millionaires created by Wall Street, casts a shadow over the tenuous position of those in the “leisure class” and offers a peek at the ascendancy of the self-supporting career woman. Continue reading .

Review: "Villette" by Charlotte Brontë


Published in 1853, Villette is the story of the famously passive and secretive Lucy Snowe. After an unspecified family disaster, she travels to the fictional city of Villette to teach at an all-girls school where she is unwillingly pulled into both adventure and romance. If you’re expecting something similar to Charlotte Brontë’s more famous novel Jane Eyre, you will most likely be disillusioned with Villette–but that’s not to say you won’t like it. While both novels enjoy similar craftsmanship, the tone could not be more different. Continue reading .

Review: "The Mysteries of Udolpho" by Ann Radcliffe


First published in 1794 in four volumes, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a Gothic Romance set in the 16th century. The novel is unique in this genre in that its many mysterious and supernatural events are eventually given a rational explanation. While most famous today for being referenced in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, The Mysteries of Udolpho was wildly popular on its own account upon initial publication and in subsequent decades.Central to the plot is our beloved heroine, Emily St. Aubert. She is a young French woman who bears a striking resemblance to the heroine of Fanny Burney’s Cecila. She is an orphan, naive, innately good, yet preyed upon and at the mercy of many shady characters, many who are her own relatives. Like Cecilia’s favorite suitor Mortimer Delville, Emily’s true love, Valencourt, has the same emotional (some would say whiny) character and true heart. And like Cecilia, Emily’s story is long. Continue reading .

Review: "Ruth Hall" by Fanny Fern


The first novel by Fanny Fern, otherwise known as Sara Payson Willis, is a semi-autobiographical tale of a talented writer who loses her husband and is forced to support herself and two young children in the mid-1800s. She states in her preface that Ruth Hall is not a novel, preferring the term “continuous story”. She wrote at variance with the traditional themes and styles of the time and therefore received her share of criticism for it. However she also had supporters. Notably, Nathaniel Hawthorne hoped that Fern’s writing would encourage her female contemporaries to follow her example and “throw off the constraints of decency…then their books are sure to possess character and value.” Continue reading .

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