Nineteenth-century fiction writer and journalist Rebecca Harding
Davis produced more than 500 published works during her 50-year career. Best
known for her 1861 novella, Life in the Iron Mills, she began writing
in a style which came to be known as literary realism a full 20 years before
the date generally associated with its beginning in the 1880s.
A new book on Davis, co-edited by Samford University English professor Janice
Milner Lasseter, sheds light on the writer's career as an early Realist and
19th century cultural commentator. Rebecca Harding Davis: Writing Cultural
Autobiography, published recently by Vanderbilt University Press, is an
annotated edition of Davis' 1904 autobiography, Bits of Gossip, and a
previously unpublished family history.
Sharon M. Harris of Texas Christian University was co-editor with Dr. Lasseter.
Davis' memoirs are not traditional autobiography. Rather, she shares her perspectives
on the extraordinary cultural changes that occurred during her lifetime and
the people–sometimes scandalous–who shaped those events. She includes portraits
of such famous people she knew as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Louisa May Alcott, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Horace Greeley and others.
Together, the annotated memoir and family history provide a view of nineteenth-century
American culture from an observer who wrote about it for half a century. Davis
was born in 1831 and died in 1910. During her lengthy career, she produced short
stories, novels, novellas, sketches and social commentary.
Her son, Richard Harding Davis, followed in her footsteps as a writer, gaining
fame as a war correspondent and producer of fiction and non-fiction during the
late nineteenth- and early twentieth century.
Lasseter is a nineteenth-century specialist and former chair of the Samford
English department. She has written widely on Davis, including the chapter,
"Hawthorne's Legacy to Rebecca Harding Davis" in the book Hawthorne and Women.