Key Popular Women Writers

General Editors: Dr. Janine Hatter and Dr. Helena Ifill

This innovative new series delivers original and transformative feminist research into the work of leading women writers who were widely read in their time, but who have been under-represented in the canon.

The series offers critical, historical and aesthetic contributions to current literary and theoretical work. Each volume concentrates on one writer. The first titles already published are on Mrs. Henry Wood, Geraldine Jewsbury, Florence Marryat, Frances Trollope and Margaret Oliphant.               

Each volume in this series explores the careers, writing practices and work of popular women writers, through a lens informed by contemporaneous and contemporary feminist thought. It interrogates the ways in which women writers, their creative processes and published material can be considered feminist, and explores how recent developments in feminist theory can enrich our understanding of popular women’s lives and literature.

This series both rethinks established popular writers and their works, and rediscovers and re-evaluates authors who have been largely neglected, often since their initial burst of success in their own historical period. This neglect is often due to the exclusivity and insular nature of the canon which has its roots in the Victorian critical drive to perpetuate a division between high and low culture.

In response, our definition of the “popular” is broadly interpreted to encompass women writers who were read by large sections of the public, and who wrote for the mass publishing market. The series therefore challenges this arbitrary divide, creating a new and dynamic dialogue regarding the canon’s expansion by introducing readers to previously under-researched women writers who were nevertheless prolific, known and influential.

Studying the work of these authors can tell us much about women’s writing, creativity and publishing practice, and about how popular fiction intervened in pressing political, social and cultural issues surrounding gender, history and women’s role in society.

This is an important and timely series that is inspired by, interrogates, and speaks to a new wave of feminism, new definitions of sex and gender, and new considerations of intersectionality.

It also reflects growing interest in popular fiction, and a feminist desire to broaden and diversify the literary canon.

Ultimately the series seeks to shed light on women writers whose work deserves greater recognition, to facilitate and inspire further research, and to pave the way for introducing these key women writers into the canon and the modern-day classroom.

Publisher: Edward Everett Root Publishers



Twitter: #KeyWomenWriters

Reviews of the Series

Florence Marryat, by Catherine Pope

“…a concise yet thoroughly researched account of Marryat’s often radical proto-feminism, both in her work and her life. Having – at best – been relegated to the margins of the Victorian canon for almost a century, Marryat is one of many popular Victorian women writers whose works are slowly being recovered and reprinted.

Critics’ previous dismissal of Marryat on account of her unabashed sensationalism and overbearing spiritualism, Pope argues, has too often detracted from her fiction itself. By contrast, this book offers a nuanced appraisal of the women’s rights questions that permeate Marryat’s writing, and recasts Marryat as a central progenitor to the late Victorian women’s movements; one whose “work forms a uniquely radical protest, evincing the progressiveness often credited to New Woman authors.”

Pope recovers a vast array of Marryat’s novels – ranging from her early sensationalism to her late-Victorian spiritualism – and maps Marryat’s contemporary reception via archival criticism of her manuscripts, numerous hostile reviews, and parodies of Marryat herself. … on the whole, the book is an insightful discussion of the literary histories and intertextual networks through which Marryat sought to locate her fiction in opposition to Victorian patriarchy.”

– Felipe Espinoza Garrido, English Studies.

Mrs Henry Wood, by Mariaconcetta Costantini

Costantini’s monograph has won an Honourable Mention for the 2021 AIA Book Prize (the annual prize of the Italian Association of English Studies).

“Costantini argues Wood was an innovative novelist, evidenced by her formal experimentation, character depictions, and critiques of gender and class norms. While her plots and narrative construction have been productively examined, Costantini shifts the focus to Wood’s characters, revealing underlying contradictions and tensions that demonstrate that Wood was more than just a “market-orient novelist who authored Victorian bestsellers” (2). Costantini summons a range of feminist theory and theorists – such as Woolf, Beauvoir, Butler, Irigaray, and Grosz – to assist her argument, though she is careful to avoid anachronism by arguing not that Wood’s work anticipated later theories but rather that the ideas and notions were beginning to emerge in the nineteenth century but would require “new epistemic contexts to be fully expanded and systematized” (21). Each chapter considers a theme peripheral to the Woman Question and draws on an impressive range of close readings of Wood’s novels.

Mrs. Henry Wood’s argument is persuasive, and it is the most thorough examination of Wood’s body of work to date. Costantini recovers Ellen Wood from the one-dimensional image of a conservative, market-oriented female novelist and replaces it with a multi-dimensional portrait of a subversive author who challenged Victorian social norms from a covert position within the middle-class literary marketplace. In Costantini’s hands, the contradictions become the points-of-entry into a web of complex social critique within Ellen Wood’s novels.”

– Scott C. Thompson, English Studies.

Margaret Oliphant, by Valerie Sanders

Margaret Oliphant is the latest edition in the Key Popular Women Writers series. In this thorough reappraisal of Oliphant’s writing, Sanders locates Oliphant as “simultaneously insider and outsider” (2), and as a critical voice in a changing age. Re-evaluating Oliphant’s somewhat erroneous reputation as a critic of women’s issues and rights, Sanders focusses her attention on Oliphant’s changing attitudes to domesticity, marriage, and gender throughout the nineteenth century, exploring how these shifts were defined and represented through Oliphant’s many novels, short stories, and articles. Through comprehensive research and engagement with key texts, Margaret Oliphant provides an insightful and valuable contribution to our consideration of Oliphant’s writing and place as a useful, important nineteenth-century woman writer.

Separated into five chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion, the book considers key themes within Oliphant’s novels and short stories … Overall, Sanders offers a focussed, interesting, and original exploration of an oft-overlooked, yet important nineteenth-century woman writer. Her study is useful for dedicated Oliphant scholars, and those new to her writing, alike.”

– Katie Baker, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies.

“Valerie Sanders’s study of Margaret Oliphant forms part of the Key Popular Women Writers Series by the Victorian Popular Fiction Association, which aims to invigorate research on underrated yet influential women writers. Sanders deftly weaves together Oliphant’s extensive journalism, biographies, historical writing, literary criticism, realist literature, and final turn toward ghost stories, all while noting the difficulty of choosing among Oliphant’s hundreds of works. When comparing Oliphant to other writers of her time, Sanders characterises her not as “a lesser Austen, Eliot or Trollope” but as a writer who matched her contemporaries in rich realist literature and, at times, surpassed them in wit and humour (26). This book not only discusses Oliphant’s oeuvre and critical reception but also explores aspects of Oliphant scholarship that have, until now, received scarce attention. Beyond serving as a sophisticated introduction, Sanders’s primary achievement lies in the new directions she offers for reading Oliphant through material culture, embodiment, and masculinity”

– Katerina Garcia-Walsh, Victorian Periodicals Review.