Eleanor Roosevelt called her one of the most influential women in America. Among the earliest and most assertive members of the Book-of-the-Month Club selection committee, Dorothy Canfield Fisher helped define literary taste in America for more than three decades. She helped shape the careers of such great writers as Pearl Buck, Isak Dinesen, and Richard Wright. A best-selling author herself, Fisher was also a deeply committed social activist. In Keeping Fires Night and Day, Mark J. Madigan collects much of Fisher's copious correspondence. With letters to Willa Cather, W.E.B. Du Bois, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Margaret Mead, James Thurber, and E.B. White, he documents Fisher's personal and professional life and career in a way that no biography could. Set against the American historical and cultural landscape from 1900 to 1958, these letters offer a firsthand account of one of the twentieth century's most remarkable women.
While Fisher's novels treated such conventional subjects as marriage and domestic life, her own life was anything but conventional. When her best-selling novels made her the chief breadwinner in her marriage, her husband, John Fisher, quietly assumed the role of secretary and editor of her work. Fluent in five languages, Dorothy Canfield Fisher founded a Braille press in France and introduced the educational methods of Dr. Maria Montessori to the United States. She became a pioneering advocate of adult education and served as the first woman on the Vermont Board of Education.
In letters to friends, fans, and colleagues, Fisher discussed her homelife, her work, and the world around her. Her passions and concerns-revealed in her correspondence with wit and poignancy-include the "New Woman' and the suffrage movement, racial discrimination and the emergence of the NAACP, the development of the national education system, two world wars, the depression, and the influence of book clubs in the literary market-place.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher "helped twentieth-century American literature to come of age," writes Clifton Fadimon in his Foreward. Yet lasting recognition has eluded her. In Keeping Fires Night and Day the distinctive voice of this gifted, intelligent and spirited woman is heard once again.
In Writers of Conviction, Julia C. Ehrhardt examines the literary careers of four American writers who have not received the critical attention they deserve: Zona Gale, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Rose Wilder Lane, and Josephine Herbst. For too long, popular twentieth-century female authors have been ignored by scholars—mainly because their stories were considered to lack serious political content or social commentary—despite their popularity with the general public.
Writers of Conviction reintroduces these authors to reveal a fascinating and unexplored aspect of white, middle-class, female authorship: the provocative links between each writer’s personal politics and her literary aspirations. Ehrhardt uses this innovative critical perspective to show that each woman became a writer in order to express her political beliefs to the largest possible audience. Combining feminist literary theory, women’s history, and biographical criticism, each chapter presents a compelling study of a woman’s individual journey to political consciousness and the writings that resulted from it.
Rather than discussing familiar issues—such as woman suffrage and equal rights—that usually dominate our understanding of women’s political activity in the early twentieth century as it surfaced in writings by canonical woman authors, Ehrhardt introduces readers to four lesser-known women and the political agendas they endorsed in both published and unpublished writings. In-depth analyses are presented on Gale’s support of the municipal-housekeeping movement, Fisher’s anxieties about the rise of New England tourism, Lane’s criticisms of the New Deal, and Herbst’s denunciation of the risks involved in illegal abortion. Ehrhardt offers a refreshing new perspective on Herbst’s fiction by putting sexuality rather than class at the center of the analysis.
Writers of Conviction breaks new ground byalso assessing the current critical conception of legitimate political agendas. By highlighting not only the content of their writings but also the immense popularity these women enjoyed, Ehrhardt demonstrates that an investigation of personal politics forces critics to reconsider assumptions about literary movements and provides a provocative model for twenty-first-century feminist literary criticism.