Among the many challenges to humanistic study in this country over the past several years, perhaps none has won easier acceptance than the notion that the traditional “canon” of English literature was established, in part, for the purpose of suppressing important works by women. In the face of such a contention, the usual rites of scholarly dispute—example and counterexample, criticism and self-correction—were set aside as those—who leveled the charges took sole possession of the field. Lost in the general retreat, however, was an unasked question. What are these important, undiscovered works? Who are their authors?

To date the strongest candidate for enshrinement in the new counter-canon is the nineteenth-century American novelist Susan Warner. An exact contemporary of Whitman, Melville, and James Russell Lowell and a prolific author of sentimental and religious...


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