Quill Pens and Petticoats Critical Essays

H. E. Stowell


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In the introduction, Stowell clearly announces the intention of portraying only those women who struggled to write “in the days before women had met men on equal terms in literature and art.” She emphasizes the dual hardship that they faced—of writing works of a quality that would be respected and accepted by the public and of circumventing the rejection of these works simply because they were written by women. She notes that many of the authors portrayed in Quill Pens and Petticoats used men’s names to avoid being rejected summarily, without a fair consideration of the merits of their work. While she is unstinting in her sympathy for and approval of her subjects, she avoids overt criticism of the society that forced them into so narrow a role. She also does not attack the weak or unsavory males who kept these authors in that place and who often tried to keep them from living their own lives.

Stowell’s overwhelming compassion and admiration for the women she portrays are obvious, as she depicts the often difficult lives that they led but that did not deter them from their writing. For example, although Mary Russell Mitford’s father was a doctor, he seldom practiced and soon gambled away the family fortune. In spite of her painful rheumatism, Mitford worked diligently at her writing to support him, considered it a privilege, and “never lost her cheerful spirit.” Similarly, Charlotte Brontë watched as her beloved brother and...

(The entire section is 571 words.)