Written to “re-dedicate and encourage” writers, Silences is a compendium of essays, quotations, and commentaries devoted to the reasons various writers either have not written more or have not written at all. It includes two essays written by Tillie Olsen, her afterword to a reprinting of Rebecca Harding Davis’s 1861 novel Life in the Iron Mills, and more than 150 pages of commentary and original source material relating to the “silences” of many well-known authors, such as Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Virginia Woolf, and Herman Melville. Olsen calls this long section “Acerbs, Asides, Amulets, Exhumations, Sources, Deepenings, Roundings, Expansions.” Each entry is keyed to the two essays that begin the text.
Of major importance in Silences are the two essays that begin the text. The first, “Silences in Literature,” was first published in 1965. In this essay Olsen decries the silences that have stopped great literary talents from producing to their full potential. Olsen assigns the term “silences” various categories: “some the silences for years by our acknowledged great; some silences hidden; some the ceasing to publish after one work appears; some the never coming to book form at all.” Other silences are caused by censorship, restrictive governments, or narrow societal roles. She concludes, “Where the gifted among women (and men) have remained mute, or have never attained full...
(The entire section is 474 words.)