Jessica R. Feldman, ““A Talent for the Disagreeable””: Elizabeth Stod-dard Writes The Morgesons (pp.202––229)
Critics have tended to read Elizabeth Stoddard's bewildering first novel, The Morgesons (1862), as a Bildungsroman——anautobiographical portrait of the artist as a young woman in early-nineteenth-century New England——or as an instance of female Gothic, proto-regionalism, or sentimentalism. Such interpretations, often focusing on the narrative arc of Cassandra Morgeson's self-empowerment, tend to ignore the novel's less comforting messages along with its painful, mysteriously awkward, even pathological atmosphere. Aspects of the novel that cannot be restated simply as plot——the structures of its words and sentences, its tone, patterns of imagery, rat-a-tat dialogue——Stoddard has thrust into a prominence that we have not adequately studied. When we begin to explore these formal elements in relation to the artistic environment in which Stoddard wrote The Morgesons, we can see that the novel analogically tracks her troubling personality and her contemporary situation in New York City. She was, for better and for worse, a woman writing among the male ““Genteel Poets,”” a group that was itself quite conflicted and that both helped and hindered her. Moreover, finding a form sufficient to express that complex situation required her to experiment with prose in ways that look forward to high Modernist works of the early twentieth century. Only through an experimental novel of layered and fragmented tales, voiced in language that insists on its own materiality, could Stoddard find adequate self-expression.
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