Constance Fenimore Woolson

0306-BKS-Wineapple-blog427Brenda Wineapple at The New York Times:

If the American writer Constance Fenimore Woolson is remembered at all, it’s mostly for her dresses. And these weren’t just any ­dresses. These were the dark silk ones that, after her sudden death, Henry James presumably tried to drown in a Venetian lagoon, hurling them from his gondola and jabbing them with a pole to keep them from rising. But he failed, and to Woolson’s admirers his failure is symbolic: You can’t keep this good writer down.

Woolson’s latest advocate is Anne Boyd Rioux, a professor of English at the University of New Orleans, whose very reliable “Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist” resurrects her subject as a pioneering author who chose a literary career over the more conventional options of marriage and motherhood, a choice made in spite of the debilitating depressions that plagued her and her family.

Woolson’s bookish father, a prosperous New England stove manufacturer, was an insecure man whose deafness intensified his inherent melancholy, and the deaths of three of her older sisters, weeks after Wool­son’s birth in 1840, so devastated her mother that she never recovered. In the aftermath, the Woolsons moved to Cleveland, but more family tragedy — the sudden deaths of two more sisters, shortly after they married — persuaded the 13-year-old Woolson to fear “the ways women gave up their health and even their lives to love and marriage.”

more here.