“Life in the Iron Mills,” Selected Fiction, and Essays
Pfaelzer, Jean, Davis, Rebecca Harding
Rebecca Harding Davis was a prolific writer who published chiefly in popular periodicals over the latter half of the nineteenth century. In tales that combine realism with sentimentalism and in topical essays, Davis confronted a wide range of current issues, most notably women's problems. This valuable anthology enriches the American literary canon reprinting much of Davis's writing for the first time.
Jean Pfaelzer is professor of English and American Studies at the University of Delaware.
Jean Pfaelzer is Associate Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Delaware and author of The Utopian Novel in America, 1886-1896: The Politics of Form.
“I am very excited about this book. It will greatly facilitate the study of Davis on all scholarly levels, and introduce Davis to the general reader. . . . Pfaelzer’s introduction is rich, provocative, and thoughtful.”—Jane A. Rose
"Jean Pfaelzer gives us not just a historically important collection; she gives us an absorbing book. Davis summons an intensity of feeling traditionally associated with 'sentimentalism' to sound the earliest notes of 'realism' in our national letters. We do not expect such writing from the pen of a nineteenth-century woman. Today's readers will be astonished."—Jean Fagan Yellin, Pace University
Rebecca Harding Davis was a prolific writer who published chiefly in popular periodicals over the latter half of the nineteenth century. In tales that combine realism with sentimentalism and in topical essays, Davis confronted a wide range of current issues—notably women’s problems—as one who knew the frustration caused by the genteel female’s helpless social position and barriers against women entering the working world. In an excellent critical introduction, Jean Pfaelzer integrates cultural, historical, and psychological approaches in penetrating readings of Davis’s work. She emphasizes how Davis’s fictional embrace of the commonplace was instrumental in the demise of American romanticism and in eroding the repressive cultural expectations for women.
In both fiction and nonfiction, Davis attacked contemporary questions such as slavery, prostitution, divorce, the Spanish-American War, the colonization of Africa, the plight of the rural South, northern racism, environmental pollution, and degraded work conditions generated by the rise of heavy industry. Written from the standpoint of a critical observer in the midst of things, Davis’s work vividly recreates the social and ideological ferment of the post-Civil War United States. The American literary canon is enriched by this collection, nearly all of which is reprinted for the first time.