The Librarians Didn't Like These Books
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
What books do you think might have irked the American Library Association in 1881? Women's fiction, according to an essay by Dee Garrison in Victorian America. The Association sent a questionnaire to major public libraries to determine if they carried books by authors that stirred controversy because of their "sensational or immoral qualities."
Garrison points out the fascinating duality of the books in question: they were deemed immoral and also very popular.
Garrison identifies a common theme in the books, one that challenges my own understanding of Victorian culture. Most showed a "rejection of traditional authority, particularly in domestic life, in religious faith, and among class-ordered mankind." They all featured strong women and weak men, she writes.
I have no doubt The Judge's wife read these authors. But while the themes persisted into the post-Victorian culture, why is it these author's names have not?
I'll have to read them to find out....
Of the 16, these first ten write out the "feminine experience" Garrison explains. Braddon and Wood write about "domestic criminals...women who commit adultery, bigamy and murder." And the final two put an "...unabashed emphasis on sex."
Ann Sophia Stephens
Mrs. E.D.E.N Southworth
Mary Jane Holmes
Caroline Lee Hentz
Augusta Jane Evans Wilson
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Ellen Price Wood
George Alfred Lawrence
William Harrison Ainsworth
Below: Photograph of #9 on the list of authors, Helen Mathers.