Posted by William Nunnelley on 2002-02-15

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by Vanderbilt University Press, is an annotated edition of Davis' 1904 autobiography, Bits of Gossip, and a previously unpublished family history.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.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.