known writers who made place a central element in her fiction was the American novelist Sarah OrneJewett.
The Country of the Pointed Firs
(1896), for example, is set in the fictional town of DunnettLanding on the coast of Maine, and the action of the novel revolves around the town and surroundingislands. The story is of a young woman writer who spends a summer in the small town, where she fallsin with a group of women who weave a web of stories about the place and its people. Jewett also portrays this circle of women as a manifestation of nature that seems to arise from the rugged landscape.Another important, but neglected, work about place is
(1850) by Susan Fenimore Cooper,the daughter of the novelist James Fenimore Cooper.
is one of the earliest examples of American nature writing and the first by a woman. In this work, Cooper describes an ideal rural society based on her experiences during her excursions in the local countryside. She also shows how that societyis changing as the wilderness recedes and industrialization looms. Cooper suggests that knowledge of place encourages people to respect the land, and she discusses the moral obligation of human beings tocreate a society that is aware of the natural history of the environment and lives in harmony with thenatural world.Other female writers wrote about place not because it was familiar but because it was new and differentfrom what they left behind as they sought a better life in new and distant regions. Many Americanfrontierswomen left accounts of their travel experiences in diaries and letters which have been collectedand studied by feminist scholars. These documents show how different their perspectives were fromtheir male contemporaries. For many women, life on the frontier meant further drudgery and hard work doing domestic chores, and consequently they had a different sense of the possibilities of the landscapethan did their husbands and sons. Other women travelers noted in their writings that despite the promiseof untouched landscapes, women's domestic captivity prevented them from enjoying what the land hadto offer. This is, for example, one of the themes of Margaret Fuller's
Summer on the Lakes, in 1843
(1844), which chronicles the travels of Fuller and her companions as they visit Niagara Falls, the GreatLakes, Chicago, and the Wisconsin Territory. Nineteenth-century nature writing by women took various forms, but one theme that is seen in most of these works is the importance of the link between human beings and their natural surroundings. For most female writers, concern with the environment is not tied to a romantic longing for the openness of the rugged landscape or the withdrawal from society, which are common themes in men's nature writing.Rather, the earth is seen as the sustainer of human life and relationships, and the fragile boundary between nature and humanity is emphasized. Critics who study these women's writings have been particularly interested to show how the “gendered” female landscape that is central to nineteenth-centurymale writing about the environment is given more complex expression in works by women. They alsoshow how female writing about the environment weaves together concerns about ordinary life andexplores questions of community, gender, domination, and exploitation.
Women and Women's Writings from Antiquity Through the Middle Ages | Introduction
Contemporary feminist theory has allowed social and literary critics to observe and reconstruct the pastthrough the lens of the woman, and more specifically, through that of the woman writer. Looking to the premodern eras of antiquity and the Middle Ages, feminist scholars have studied women's roles asartists, leaders, and agents of history. Likewise, they have examined the status of ordinary individuals asthe subjects of social and historical change across the millennia. Importantly, most classicists andmedievalists who employ the tools of feminist theory in their work have been careful to note thatfeminism is a decidedly contemporary development, cautioning those who would describe women of thedistant past as feminists to be aware of the consequent anachronism. Nevertheless, in their explorations2