She Will Be: Literary Authorship and the Coming Woman in the Postbellum United States

2019-05-15T14:15:40Z (GMT) by Elizabeth Boyle

She Will Be: Literary Authorship and the Coming Woman in the Postbellum United States argues that postbellum women writers deployed the figure of the Coming Woman, an archetype for the nation’s improved female future, to articulate expanded sociopolitical opportunities for women, interrogate prevailing standards of literary art, and validate their own literary pursuits. During the final decades of the nineteenth century, the American reading public became increasingly fascinated with identifying who the Coming Woman would be, what qualities she would possess, and how her arrival would alter the nation’s future. Such questions flooded US print culture in the decades between 1865 and 1900, demonstrating that the Coming Woman not only occupied a space between the antebellum True Woman and fin de siècle New Woman but also that she was a major feminine archetype in her own right.


Even so, existing scholarship on the Coming Woman tends either to identify the Coming Woman anachronistically as an early iteration of the New Woman or, when naming her directly, to overlook her complex function as both a harbinger and manifestation of manifold sociopolitical changes. These limited examinations elide the Coming Woman’s ubiquitous influence on postbellum literary culture, particularly in terms of the complex links Susan Coultrap-McQuin and Lawrence W. Levine have traced between middlebrow culture and postbellum national identity. She Will Be builds on recent scholarship by demonstrating how the American Coming Woman helped reshape notions of women’s literary authorship, modernity, and national identity in the late nineteenth century. By examining her literary life through four key middlebrow genres (Bildungsroman, sentimentality, utopianism, and regionalism), She Will Be reveals how female authors used the Coming Woman figure to imagine—and, indeed, write into being—an expanded vision for the US’s female future.