The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Stoddard

Jennifer Putzi
Elizabeth Stockton

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The Selected Letters certainly deepens our understanding of Elizabeth Stoddard. More broadly, it provides insight into the challenges faced by early American women writers and adds texture to our perception of nineteenth-century literary culture and society. The beautifully annotated letters are chock-a-block with allusions, quotations, and references to fellow writers, family members, and current events. This inherently interesting book will appeal to anyone interested in nineteenth-century life and culture.”—Ellen Weinauer, coeditor, American Culture, Canons, and the Case of Elizabeth Stoddard 

“This well-chosen selection of Elizabeth Stoddard’s letters, scrupulously edited with a searching, well-informed introduction, demonstrates her artistry as a letter writer and sheds much light on her life and career, especially her extensive network among the writers, artists, critics, and publishers of her day. This book is sure to make a valuable contribution to the Stoddard revival now in progress.”—Lawrence Buell, Harvard University 

"Finally! Access to the life, thoughts, and feelings of one of the most original writers of the late nineteenth century, in her own words. Kudos to professors Putzi and Stockton for this beautifully selected and annotated edition. The complex, outspoken Elizabeth Stoddard comes alive as she conducts friendships with many of the literary men and women of her day, astutely assesses her own writing and that of her contemporaries, makes observations that spare neither herself nor anyone else, and reflects frankly on her long marriage to poet Richard Henry Stoddard. A must-read for everyone interested in Stoddard and her era."—Sandra A. Zagarell,senior editor, Heath Anthology of American Literature

In response to the resurgence of interest in American novelist, poet, short-story writer, and newspaper correspondent Elizabeth Stoddard (1823–1902), whose best-known work is The Morgesons (1862), Jennifer Putzi and Elizabeth Stockton spent years locating, reading, and sorting through more than 700 letters scattered across eighteen different archives, finally choosing eighty-four letters to annotate and include in this collection. By presenting complete, annotated transcripts, The Selected Letters provides a fascinating introduction to this compelling writer, while at the same time complicating earlier representations of her as either a literary handmaiden to her at-the-time more famous husband, the poet Richard Henry Stoddard, or worse, as the “Pythoness” whose difficult personality made her a fickle and unreasonable friend.

The Stoddards belonged to New York's vibrant, close-knit literary and artistic circles. Among their correspondents were both family members and friends, including writers and editors such as Julia Caroline Ripley Dorr, Rufus Griswold, James Russell Lowell, Caroline Healey Dall, Julian Hawthorne, William Dean Howells, Helen Hunt Jackson, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and Margaret Sweat.

An innovative and unique writer, Stoddard eschewed the popular sentimentality of her time even while exploring the emotional territory of relations between the sexes. Her writing—in both her published fiction and her personal letters—is surprisingly modern and psychologically dense. The letters are highly readable, lively, and revealing, even to readers who know little of her literary output or her life. 

As scholars of epistolarity have recently argued, letters provide more than just a biographical narrative; they also should be understood as aesthetic performances themselves. The correspondence provides a sense of Stoddard as someone who understood letter writing as a distinct and important literary genre, making this collection particularly well suited for new conceptualizations of the epistolary genre.