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Those "damned scribbling women"

Diane Roberts in the video clip posted on this page describes how Nathaniel Hawthorne, the celebrated author of The Scarlet Letter and other books, complained in 1855 that his work was being neglected by a reading public who preferred the sentimental fiction being produced by female writers such as “Marion Harland”, whose real name was Mary Virginia Terhune, and Miriam Coles Harris.

Writing to his publisher, Hawthorne complained that “America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash–and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.  What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the ‘Lamplighter,’ and other books neither better nor worse?–worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the 100,000.”

Women writers of this period, including Augusta Jane Evans, wrote romances read mostly by women who spent their lives in the domestic sphere.    Nina Baym believes these novels were popular because they portrayed not only romantic bliss but also strong, assertive female characters who stood their own ground in a world dominated by men.