Email this review


Forgotten figures from New England's hall of feminine fame are dusted off and resurrected in this rather arid collection of biographical vignettes. From Africa to Boston, Phillis Wheatley, Negro slave girl, became the second woman poet published in America, writing popular, but bad poetry (like her ""Ode to George Washington"") to please the audience of her time. Later, in the mid-nineteenth century, Lydia Sigourney claimed the title of the ""first American poetess"" for her palatable, evangelical verse--more bad literature. Again her popularity reveals more of contemporary life and tastes than the esoteric Leaves of Grass can. The next bluestocking on parade is Catherine Beecher, a Connecticut Calvinist who taught, wrote and lectured in a campaign for women's education, but who received more notoriety for a heretical refutation of the Congregationalist gospel of Jonathan Edwards. Delia Bacon's feminist claim to fame was more traditional--she created a scandal by involving a respected person in a love affair. In New Haven a magazine called ""The Gallinippers"" took effective potshots at Yale's intimate failings; three ladies worked anonymously to slander professors, institutions and the tutorial system and proved highly successful in their axe-grinding. Interesting subjects, no doubt, for a feminist revival, but the bald objectivity taken by the author turns more often into straightforwardly unsympathetic judgment--Puritan, all right, but hardly a Promenade.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin