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New Books: “Hero Strong” and Other Stories: Tales of Girlhood Ambition, Female Masculinity, and Women’s Worldly Achievement in Antebellum America

Hero Strong Dust Jacket

“Hero Strong” and Other Stories: Tales of Girlhood Ambition, Female Masculinity, and Women’s Worldly Achievement in Antebellum America

Mary F. W. Gibson; edited and with an introduction by Daniel A. Cohen

University of Tennessee Press

http://utpress.org/title/hero-strong-and-other-stories/ (for 30% publisher’s discount coupon, please email dac37@case.edu)

A teenage orphan from Vermont, Mary Gibson burst onto the literary scene during the early 1850s as a star writer—under the pseudonym Winnie Woodfern—for more than half a dozen Boston “story papers,” mass-circulation weekly periodicals that specialized in popular fiction. This first modern scholarly edition of Mary Gibson’s early fiction features ten tales of teenage girls (seemingly much like the author herself) who fearlessly appropriate masculine traits, defy conventional gender norms, and struggle to fulfill high worldly ambitions as authors, artists, and even doctors. By moving beyond “literary domesticity” and embracing bold new models of women’s authorship, artistry, and achievement, Gibson and her fictional protagonists stand as exemplars of “the first generation of American girls who imagined they could do almost anything.”

“If you read these stories, you will recognize the ‘new woman’ of the postwar period as less novel and the young ladies of the 1850s as more daring than previously acknowledged. . . . Cohen’s recovery of Gibson’s story-paper fiction opens up a new world of popular reading, demonstrating that girls had regular access to fictional stories that encouraged them to pursue individual ambitions throughout their lives. In Cohen’s account, the fictional heroines in these stories—and the authors who dreamed them up—were not tomboys but masculine women, and they were not marginal but enormously popular. . . . Now that feminist critics have rescued women’s domestic novels from such biased assessments, Cohen urges us to look to the story papers to recover a richer and more varied tradition of women’s writing.” Corinne Field, Journal of the Civil War Era.

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