Literature scholar Jennifer Tuttle co-edits collection of essays on lesser-known works of author Charlotte Perkins Gilman

February 09, 2011

During her lifetime, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 - 1935) was a popular writer, lecturer, and social reformer whose literary interests ranged from short stories, novels, and nonfiction philosophical studies to poetry, newspaper columns, plays, and many other genres. 

Though she fell into obscurity after her death, there has been a dramatic resurgence of interest in Gilman's works among literary scholars since the 1970s.

University of New England Associate Professor of English Jennifer S. Tuttle has co-edited a new book, Charlotte Perkins Gilman: New Texts, New Contexts, a collection of essays that represents a new phase of feminist scholarship in recovery, drawing readers’ attention to Gilman's lesser-known works from fresh perspectives that revise what we thought we knew about the author and her work.

Her co-editor on the volume is Carol Farley Kessler, professor emerita of English, American Studies, and Women's Studies at Penn State-Brandywine.

Contributors to the book consider an array of texts that have not yet enjoyed adequate critical scrutiny, including Gilman's short fiction, drama, and writing for periodicals, as well as her long fiction. Similarly, incorporating careful archival, biographical, and historical research, contributors explore Gilman's life and writings - including her most famous story, "The Yellow Wall-Paper" - through strikingly new critical lenses.

Other essays included here assess Gilman's place in a longer historical trajectory and within multiple rhetorical traditions, from the genre of feminist humor to the canon of African American women's literary production.

The essays in this volume were originally presented as conference papers at the University of New England Maine Women Writers Collection's international conference, "Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Then and Now," held on Portland Campus in 2006. Since that time, the contributors have developed and amplified their arguments. 

"As an editor of such a volume, I enjoyed the opportunity to help shape these revisions with my coeditor Carol Kessler," Tuttle explains. "Some of the contributors are senior scholars of international renown, while others are just emerging, near the start of their careers.  Most exciting, though, was crafting the critical introduction, because it allowed me to articulate the state of the field of Gilman studies and actively to chart new directions for the work." 

"What makes the volume unique and new," Tuttle notes, "is its focus on recovery - that is, on bringing new works by Gilman to critics' attention as well as bringing new contexts to bear on the works with which we're more familiar."

Reviews

In a pre-publication review, Cynthia J. Davis, professor of English, University of South Carolina, wrote: "With this collection, the editors aim to provide additional context for Gilman's life and work and to engage with texts often overshadowed by her canonical ones. The editors as well as the contributors have succeeded in these two goals. They situate Gilman more fully in her times and widen the scholarly lens so that more of Gilman's numerous works come into focus."

Dale M. Bauer, professor of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in her review, noted: "One of the great things about this collection is that it offers insightful - and absolutely new - essays about "The Yellow Wall-paper," while it also generates an innovative look about her relatively unread works. It is a stunning response to Gilman's whole career."

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: New Texts, New Contexts is published by Ohio State University Press.

Jennifer S. Tuttle

As the Dorothy M. Healy Chair in Literature & Health, Tuttle is the faculty director of the University of New England's Maine Women Writers Collection, housed at the Abplanalp Library on the Portland Campus. She is associate professor in the Department of English and Language Studies and also directs UNE's Women's and Gender Studies Program.

She teaches courses in literature and health, women's studies, U.S. literatures, and the American West. Her published work on these and other topics has appeared in numerous journals and edited collections.

She is coeditor of The Selected Letters of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (2009) and editor of a scholarly edition of Gilman's novel The Crux (2002).  Her current project - Unsettling California: American Nervousness and Western Women's Writing - is a book about California women writers and medical discourse.  She is coeditor of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers and president of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society. She received her Ph.D., from the University of California, San Diego.

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