THE FIRST WOMAN IN THE REPUBLIC by Carolyn L. Karcher

THE FIRST WOMAN IN THE REPUBLIC

A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A close look at a 19th-century author and abolitionist that integrates her personal life, her work, and the eventful period in US history during which she lived. Karcher (English, American Studies, Women's Studies/Temple Univ.; Shadow Over the Promised Land, not reviewed) is a staunch advocate of her subject, tracing the ``trajectory'' of Child's life from her earliest fiction through her anti-slavery work and later advocacy of women's and Indian's rights. Child (180280), who entered the literary limelight with Hobomok, a novel sympathetic to Indians and hostile to patriarchy, compounded her success by founding Juvenile Miscellany, a hugely popular children's magazine. But love came to Child at a high price: Her husband, newspaper editor David Lee Child, was a terrible businessman who accumulated debts faster than she could cover them. Karcher, clearly appalled by a woman ``abasing herself to the husband responsible for sabotaging her career,'' indicates that Child's early opposition to gender equality could have been rooted in devotion to her marriage. Need for cash drove her to write on domestic economy, but after an 1830 meeting with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, her life and writings acquired a greater goal. With the publication of her first major work on slavery, Child's formerly adoring public became incensed, the Juvenile Miscellany folded, and her activities as an anti- slavery activist put her in danger (as Karcher's comments on mob violence effectively indicate). Karcher is at her best when Child herself is a lion; less impressive are the occasional psychological speculations (e.g., on the possible connection in Child's mind between abolitionist John Brown and her parents) and excuses for Child not meeting late-20th-century standards for political correctness (e.g., depression and housework kept her from fighting the Fugitive Slave Law). This valuable portrait of a complex and talented woman may be most notable for indicating the extent to which she was of- -rather than ahead of--her time. (10 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8223-1485-1
Page count: 785pp
Publisher: Duke Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994