Of Women and the Essay
An Anthology from 1655 to 2000

Edited by Jenny Spinner

A collection of the historic contributions of female essayists


Of Women and the Essay brings together forty-six American and British women essayists whose work spans nearly four centuries. The contributions of these essayists prove that women have been significant participants in the essay tradition since the genre’s modern beginnings in the sixteenth century. Many of these essayists, such as Eliza Haywood, Fanny Fern, Gertrude Bustill Mossell, Agnes Repplier, and Alice Meynell, achieved significant success as writers within whatever essay form ruled the day; others bent the rules, though often imperceptibly, to make room for themselves. Collectively they represent a missing piece in the larger history of the essay.

In Of Women and the Essay Jenny Spinner contextualizes the broad range of literary essays included within the chronological development of the genre. She makes a compelling argument that women have constructed their own tradition in the essay genre, often utilizing periodic traits of the essay to their own advantage. At the same time, she suggests that the personal essay’s demands on the essayist required both a public and personal authorization that proved challenging for women essayists in general and for women of color in particular. The appendix catalogs the works of nearly 200 female essayists and should inspire further reading. As a whole, the volume lifts women writers from the cutting-room floor of essay scholarship and returns them to their rightful place in the essay canon.

Includes essays by:
  • Elizabeth Bowen
  • Frances Brooke
  • Margaret Cavendish
  • Lydia Maria Child
  • Frances Power Cobbe
  • Judith Ortiz Cofer
  • Elizabeth David
  • Joan Didion
  • Annie Dillard
  • Jenny Diski
  • Gretel Ehrlich
  • Anne Fadiman
  • Fanny Fern
  • M. F. K. Fisher
  • Margaret Fuller
  • Katharine Fullerton Gerould
  • Grace Greenwood
  • Louise Imogen Guiney
  • Gail Hamilton
  • Elizabeth Hardwick
  • Eliza Haywood
  • Linda Hogan
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • Vernon Lee
  • Charlotte Lennox
  • Eliza Lynn Linton
  • Harriet Martineau
  • Alice Meynell
  • Mary Russell Mitford
  • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
  • Kyoko Mori
  • Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris
  • Gertrude Bustill Mossell
  • Judith Sargent Murray
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Cynthia Ozick
  • Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi
  • Ann Plato
  • Agnes Repplier
  • Susan Sontag
  • Sara Suleri
  • Alice Walker
  • Rebecca West
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Zitkala-Sa
Page count: 384 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


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List price: $39.95

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JENNY SPINNER is an associate professor of English at the Saint Joseph's University and director of the Writing Center.