Language and Gender in Victorian America

  • Elsa Nettels

Abstract

The historian of issues debated in modern feminist criticism finds in American writing of the nineteenth century much that anticipates the discussions of scholars and critics today. In particular, the relation of literary style to gender became of increasing interest to Americans as women writers became ever more prominent in Victorian America. Reviewers and essayists of the post-Civil War years did not use modern terms such as ‘patriarchal language’, ‘androgynous ideal’ and ‘phallocentric reading’, but they debated questions to which critics and theorists today are seeking answers: Are there differences between the language of men and of women? Are there qualities of style that distinguish women’s writing from men’s? If there are differences, are they the result of cultural ideals and codes that are learned, or are they the result of inherent biological differences? Does literary style reflect mental processes or psychological traits that are distinctively feminine or masculine? In the most influential magazines of the late nineteenth century, such as Harper’s, Century, Atlantic, Scribner’s, Cosmopolitan and Ladies’ Home Journal, writers directly or implicitly gave answers to these questions, answers which often reflect widely held views of the relation of the sexes and of the proper roles or spheres of men and women.

Keywords

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Notes

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© Elsa Nettels 1997

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  • Elsa Nettels

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