Constance Fenimore Woolson Criticism - Essay

Henry James (essay date 1887)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Miss Constance Fenimore Woolson," Harper's Weekly Vol. XXXI, No. 1573, February 12, 1887, pp. 114-15.

[In the essay that follows, James evaluates Woolson's writing as possessed by "a spirit singularly and essentially conservative," opposed to the entrance of women into public life.]

Flooded as we have been in these latter days with copious discussion as to the admission of women to various offices, colleges, functions, and privileges, singularly little attention has been paid, by themselves at least, to the fact that in one highly important department of human affairs their cause is already gained—gained in such a way as to deprive them largely of their...

(The entire section is 4528 words.)

Arthur Hobson Quinn (essay date 1936)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Place and Race in American Fiction," in American Fiction: An Historical and Critical Survey, D. Appleton-Century Company, 1936, pp. 332-42.

[In the following excerpt, Quinn discusses Woolson 's ability to blend vibrant descriptions of physical settings with the actions of realistic characters.]

Usually a novelist's impulse to deal with the life of a locality was confined to one section, but Constance Fenimore Woolson dealt not only with the North-west and the South but also with the European scene. She was born in Claremont, New Hampshire, in 1840, her mother, Hannah Cooper Pomeroy Woolson, being the niece of James Fenimore Cooper. She was educated in...

(The entire section is 4257 words.)

Alexander Cowie (essay date 1948)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Local-Color, Frontier and Regional Fiction," in The Rise of the American Novel, American Book Company, 1948, pp. 568-78.

[In the following essay, Cowie studies Woolson's five novels and argues that their principal qualities are simplicity of plot, realism of character and dialogue, and precision of description.]

An author able to elicit the high praise of so austere a critic as Henry James may be assumed to have mastered important elements in the technique of writing.84 Praise from such a quarter would indeed for some people be presumptive evidence that the writer was more skilled than readable. Yet Constance Fenimore Woolson was not only an able...

(The entire section is 5579 words.)

Rayburn S. Moore (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Immeasurable World of Print': The Short Fiction," in Constance Fenimore Woolson, Twayne Publishers, 1963, pp. 41-50.

[In the essay that follows, Moore discusses Woolson's first collection of short stories and examines its increasingly sophisticated character development.]

Constance Woolson's first contributions to the great national magazines were descriptive articles in the guise of fiction. She wrote of the Zoar Community in the Tuscarawas Valley of Ohio, of Mackinac in the far north of the Lake country, and of Lake Otsego near the ancestral home of the Coopers. Gradually she began to concentrate more on her characters and less on description, though...

(The entire section is 4819 words.)

Robert L. White (essay date 1967)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cultural Ambivalence in Constance Fenimore Woolson's Italian Tales," in Tennessee Studies in Literature, edited by Richard Beale Davis and Kenneth L. Knickerbocker, Vol. XII, University of Tennessee Press, 1967, pp. 121-29.

[In the following essay, White considers Woolson 's letters and short stories as expressions of American ambivalence toward "the foreign " in general and Italy in particular.]

Until recently, Constance Fenimore Woolson, grandniece of Fenimore Cooper and a respected authoress in her own right during the 1870's and '80's, was a figure but dimly remembered by most students of American literature, a figure occupying one of the shadowier niches...

(The entire section is 3774 words.)

Rayburn S. Moore (essay date 1967)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Editor's Introduction," in For the Major and Selected Short Stories, College & University Press, 1967, pp. 7-22.

[In the essay that follows, Moore provides a general introduction to Woolson's short stories.]


In her own day Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894) was popular with both public and critics. Many American and British readers read her work when it first appeared in Harper's New Monthly and other literary magazines, and incomplete figures from her publishers Harper and Brothers on the sale of eight of her twelve volumes show that more than one hundred thousand copies of these books were sold. Anne, her...

(The entire section is 6095 words.)

Sharon L. Dean (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Constance Woolson's Southern Sketches," Southern Studies, Vol. XXV, No. 3, Fall 1986, pp. 274-83.

[In the following essay, Dean praises Woolson 's sensitivity to the complex position of women in the South which is evident through her fictional accounts of Southern society during Reconstruction.]

Constance Woolson was not a Southerner. Born in Claremont, New Hampshire, on March 5, 1840, she moved that winter to Cleveland where she lived, aside from schooling in New York and summer visits to Mackinac Island, Michigan, until her first of many extended visits South in 1873. From 1873 to 1879, she spent much of her time in Florida, Virginia, the Carolinas,...

(The entire section is 4630 words.)

Joan Myers Weimer (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Women Artists as Exiles in the Fiction of Constance Fenimore Woolson," Legacy: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 1986, pp. 3-15.

[In the essay that follows, Weimer studies Woolson 's reflections on the extent to which "women artists … are ultimately exiled from their own art."]

American women starting to write just after the Civil War found themselves standing on uneven new ground. Not because it was an act of daring for women to present themselves as professional writers: women novelists of the previous generation had broken that ground, and some, like Susan Warner and Maria Cummins, had written best sellers. These...

(The entire section is 8249 words.)

Sharon L. Dean (essay date 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Homeward Bound: The Novels of Constance Fenimore Woolson," Legacy: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers, Vol. 6, No. 2, Fall 1989, pp. 17-28.

[In the following essay, Dean explores the idea of independence which is developed in Woolson's later novels.]

When Henry James wrote his generally favorable review of Constance Woolson in the February 12, 1887, edition of Harper's Weekly, he criticized her for limiting women's choices by too often having them choose marriage: Miss Woolson, he says, "likes the unmarried … but she likes marriages even better" (182). For him, Woolson was not revolutionary in her portraits of women: rather than...

(The entire section is 7941 words.)

Cheryl B. Torsney (essay date 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: 'Anne: Woolson's Portrait of a Lady," in Constance Fenimore Woolson: The Grief of Artistry, University of Georgia Press, 1989, pp. 34-49.

[In the essay that follows, Torsney compares Woolson 's first novel Anne with Henry James 's Portrait of a Lady, and contends that Woolson "adapted her literary inheritance from the domestics of earlier in the century to suit her original purposes."]

Woolson's transitional position—on the one hand a member of the "scribbling" sorority, on the other an exile who isolated herself from society in order to devote herself to art—is best demonstrated, perhaps, by example. Woolson's earliest stories are...

(The entire section is 6373 words.)

Victoria Brehm (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Island Fortresses: The Landscape of the Imagination in the Great Lakes Fiction of Constance Fenimore Woolson," American Literary Realism: 1870-1910, Vol. 22, No. 3, Spring 1990, pp. 51-66.

[In the following essay, Brehm contests the idea that Woolson is either "a failed realist or a failed sentimentalist" and argues that Woolson's writing reflects her own conflicts and renunciations as a female author.]

Henry James noted only two "defects" in Constance Fenimore Woolson's 1889 novel Jupiter Lights: "One is that the group on which she has bent her lens strikes us as too detached, too isolated, too much a desert island…. The other fault is that the...

(The entire section is 7136 words.)

Peter Caccavari (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Exile, Depatriation and Constance Fenimore Woolson's Traveling Regionalism," in Women, America, and Movement: Narratives of Relocation, edited by Susan L. Roberson, University of Missouri Press, 1998, pp. 19-37.

[In the following essay, Caccavari examines Woolson 's attempt at being a "writer in exile" and her simultaneous yearning for homecoming.]

In a letter she wrote as a young girl to a friend who was about to be married and then live in Europe, Constance Fenimore Woolson touched on issues that would preoccupy her writing life throughout her adult-hood: exile, travel, place, freedom, art, patriarchy, and depatriation:


(The entire section is 8300 words.)