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Constance Fenimore Woolson: Collected Stories (slipcased edition)


When Constance Fenimore Woolson died in Venice in 1894 at the age of fifty-three, having jumped or fallen out of a third-story window, she was memorialized in all the major American papers, compared with George Eliot, Jane Austen, and the Brontës as one of the greatest women writers in English. In her lifetime, her novels and story collections enjoyed not only critical esteem but also commercial success of a kind her male rivals (and friends) Henry James and William Dean Howells seldom attained. For all that, Woolson was largely forgotten in the twentieth century, noted if at all because of her connection to James. Now, thanks to the recovery work of scholars and biographers in recent decades, we are regaining a proper sense of Woolson’s place in American literature, and of the brilliance and originality of her work.

With this volume Library of America presents the biggest and best edition of Woolson’s short fiction ever published. Here are twenty-one stories chosen from her four collections—_Castle Nowhere: Lake-Country Sketches_ (1875), Rodman the Keeper: Southern Sketches (1880), The Front Yard and Other Italian Stories (1895), and Dorothy and Other Italian Stories (1896)—as well as two uncollected stories. Together they reveal Woolson as an innovator of American literary realism, a writer of deep feeling, complexity, and extraordinary descriptive powers.

Her arresting early work, set in the Great Lakes region, transformed the local color story from sentimental armchair travel into sophisticated, tough-minded fiction, as in the hauntingly vivid “St. Clair Flats” and “Solomon,” about women living with mad or visionary husbands in extremely isolated places. Other stories set in the Reconstruction South, written while the nation was still grieving the effects of the Civil War, explore poisonous racial and sectional tensions. In “Rodman the Keeper,” one of her finest Southern stories, a keeper of the dead in a nameless Union cemetery reluctantly becomes a caregiver to the living—a wounded Confederate veteran. In the final phase of her career, after she left the United States, Woolson turned her attention to international themes and the plight of women writers. Few have written as incisively about the way in which women were treated by their male contemporaries as Woolson does in “The Street of the Hyacinth” and “‘Miss Grief.’”

Anne Boyd Rioux, editor, is the author of several books, including Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist and Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters. A professor of English at the University of New Orleans, she is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Humanities Awards, one for public scholarship.

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