Templates for Authorship
American Women's Literary Autobiography of the 1930s
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Windy Counsell Petrie considers twelve autobiographies from a diverse group of writers, ranging from highbrow modernists such as Gertrude Stein and Harriet Monroe to popular fiction writers like Edith Wharton and Edna Ferber, and lesser known figures such as Grace King and Carolyn Wells. Since there were few existing examples of women's literary autobiography, these writers found themselves marketed and interpreted within four cultural templates: the artist, the activist, the professional, and the celebrity. As they wrote their life stories, the women adapted these templates to counter unwanted interpretations and resist the sentimental feminine traditions of previous generations with innovative strategies of deferral, elision, comedy, and collaboration. This accessible study contends that writing autobiography offered each of these writers an opportunity to define and defend her own literary legacy.
"Through the force of evidence and sound analysis, [Petrie] persuades us that these autobiographies . . . are texts that still merit attention. They introduce formal innovations in narrative style and construction, and they show us authors engaging in feminist activism, exercising sly wit, giving voice to working people’s concerns, breaking free of norms regarding both gender and sexual expression, fighting for their own aesthetic principles, and doing their best to earn an independent living."—Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature
"One of Petrie’s strengths is her attention to writers relegated to the margins of literary history. Scholars of the period will be delighted to see that in addition to the prominent figures like Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein, Petrie includes once-celebrated but now obscure figures like Margaret Deland and Carolyn Wells. . . . [This is] a solid contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century literary history."—American Literary History
"Petrie illuminates how these autobiographies reflected the tension present in writing a woman writer's life in the early twentieth century through an examination of their memoirs against diaries, interviews, letters, and other published and unpublished materials. Aligning less well-known authors in productive dialogue with more canonical figures, she investigates how these writers responded to gendered expectations."—Lisa Botshon, coeditor of Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s
"Petrie does a fabulous job laying out the market and literary environments in which these writers wrote and published their autobiographies. She clearly builds on a firm foundation of scholarship on women's life writing, the literary marketplace of the 1930s, and, where possible, existing scholarship on these autobiographies."—Jennifer Haytock, author of The Middle Class in the Great Depression: Popular Women's Novels of the 1930s