Toward a Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism

Edited by Jana L. Argersinger and Phyllis Cole

The first large-scale, collaborative study of women’s voices and their vital role in the American transcendentalist movement


“An astonishing record of scholarship that examines transcendentalism from the perspective of women writers. The seventeen essays in this collection (and the ‘interludes’ of primary texts interwoven throughout the volume) are proof that women contributed directly and positively to the movement of transcendentalism. No one who reads these outstanding essays and engaging primary materials will doubt that fact.”
—Susan Belasco, editor of Stowe in Her Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates

“Gathering seventeen interpretive essays on transcendentalist women and their sympathetic fellow travelers and interspersing revelatory primary materials among this scholarship, Argersinger and Cole deliver a book that delights and instructs at every turn and on many levels. This is a signal achievement and will redirect the study of both transcendentalism and American romanticism generally.”
—Philip F. Gura, author of American Transcendentalism: A History

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Traditional histories of the American transcendentalist movement begin in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s terms: describing a rejection of college books and church pulpits in favor of the individual power of “Man Thinking.” This essay collection asks how women who lacked the privileges of both college and clergy rose to thought. For them, reading alone and conversing together were the primary means of growth, necessarily in private and informal spaces both overlapping with those of the men and apart from them. But these were means to achieving literary, aesthetic, and political authority— indeed, to claiming utopian possibility for women as a whole.

Toward a Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism is a project of both archaeology and reinterpretation. Many of its seventeen distinguished and rising scholars work from newly recovered archives, and all offer fresh readings of understudied topics and texts. First quickened by the 2010 bicentennial of Margaret Fuller’s birth, the project reaches beyond Fuller to her female predecessors, contemporaries, and successors throughout the nineteenth century who contributed to or grew from the transcendentalist movement.

Geographic scope also widens—from the New England base to national and transatlantic spheres. A shared goal is to understand this “genealogy” within a larger history of American women writers; no absolute boundaries divide idealism from sentiment, romantics from realists, or white discourse from black. Primary-text interludes invite readers into the ongoing task of discovering and interpreting transcendentally affiliated women. This collection recognizes the vibrant contributions women made to a major literary movement and will appeal to both scholars and general readers.

Katherine Adams
Jana L. Argersinger
Noelle A. Baker
Dorri Beam
Phyllis Cole
Helen R. Deese
Mary L. De Jong
Sterling F. Delano
Monika Elbert
Ivonne M. García
Eric Gardner
Daniel S. Malachuk
Carol Strauss Sotiropoulos
Jeffrey Steele
Susan M. Stone
Laura Dassow Walls
Sarah Wider
Gary Williams

Page count: 448
5 tables
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Jana L. Argersinger is coeditor of the journal Poe Studies: History, Theory, Interpretation at Washington State University. As an independent scholar, she has published the coedited essay collection Hawthorne and Melville: Writing a Relationship and articles on nineteenth-century American women writers. Phyllis Cole is professor of English at Penn State University, Brandywine, and is the author of Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History, as well as essays on feminist themes in the transcendentalist movement.