Readers encountering Child's writings for the first time often ask: How could a woman
so influential in her own day and so perceptive about issues still relevant to ours have
just disappeared from literary and historical textbooks? Pondering this question may
lead us toward a more dialectical understanding of the culture Child played a major
role in shaping and critiquing.
is easy to see why the generation that overturned
Radical Reconstruction and repudiated the abolitionist ideal of racial equality should
have consigned Child to oblivion. It is less easy to see why a generation concerned with
recovering the work of "lost" foremothers has not paid more attention to her. The
explanation seems to lie in the challenge Child poses to paradigms that have dominated
the scholarship of the past two decades.
Although selections from her writings have appeared in a number of recent antholo-
gies - among them Susan Koppelman's The Other Woman (1984) and Women s Friend-
(1991); Lucy M. Freibert and Barbara A. White's Hidden Hands (1985); Judith
Fetterley's Provisions (1985); and Paul Lauter's Heath Anthology of American Literature
(1990) - Child has not figured in any of the studies seeking to present an overview of
nineteenth-century American women's literature. She receives only passing mention in
Douglas's The Feminization of American Culture (1977), Nina Baym's Womans
Fiction (1978), Mary Kelley's Public Woman, Private Stage (1984), and Susan
19th-Century American Womens Novels (1990), and no mention in Jane Tompkins's
Sensational Designs (1985).1 The omission points up the extent to which feminist critics
have continued to accept the longstanding characterization of women writers as senti-
mental, genteel, and domestic, even while revaluing "sentimental" literature and dis-
puting the grounds for its exclusion from the canon.
Child's example suggests the need to broaden our conceptions of nineteenth-century
women writers and their contributions to literary history. Unlike the female "scrib-
blers" studied by Douglas, Baym, and Kelley, Child did not claim to have entered on a
literary career only out of financial exigency; instead, she frankly avowed her ambition
to achieve fame and "excellence." Nor did she limit herself to sentimental and domestic
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