Introduction to the Literary Recovery Exhibit

The Project

This exhibit presents research produced in one of the Literature program’s Senior Seminar classes for Spring 2013, taught by Dr. Deborah Gussman, focused on Recovering 19th-century American Women Writers. Students in the seminar had the option of researching and writing a thesis on a recently recovered writer and text about which little criticism has been written, or uncovering a text that has not yet been recovered and starting a new conversation about that writer and her work. Students working on a recently recovered text had the opportunity to participate in a discussion about a work in the early stages of its critical conversation. Students attempting to discover a work had the chance to dig around in archives, ranging from the Stockton’s own recently acquired Munn collection of South Jersey writing to on-line collections such as “Wright American Fiction, 1851-1875 ( to massive public archives such as Google Books, hoping to find a “lost” or overlooked gem, and provide it with a new audience.

The Purpose, or What is Recovery?

The recovery of literature can be seen as a revival of literature: giving pieces that have been neglected and forgotten a second breath of life. Literary recovery requires researchers to look beyond the literary canon and to examine lesser-known pieces that may not fit the stereotype of nineteenth-century works. Throughout this entire semester, our class had the opportunity to learn that some U.S. women’s literature from the nineteenth-century can abide by our expectations of woman’s fiction – such as Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Married or Single — yet some can also transcend what we assume to exist in the literary field. For example, pieces such as Julia C. Collins’s The Curse of Caste or Julia Ward Howe’s The Hermaphrodite are not considered canonical, yet there is no reason why they should not be studied. Works such as the aforementioned allow students to realize not only that women’s writing of this era is more than marriage plots and slave narratives, but that marriage plots, slave narratives, and other genres in which women wrote are more complex and rewarding than previous criticism may have acknowledged. Recovery is essential in expanding the literary canon and reshaping literary history as well as redefining an era of literature.

Also, many pieces that have been recovered give the authors the recognition they were unable to receive during the time in which they wrote. Literary recovery projects allow for these female authors to be studied, appreciated, and brought into a long-awaited conversation. While our recovery projects may not seem like much to a third party, it is an honor to be a part of a project that is able to give a voice to those women who were silenced as a result of society’s view of what literature can and cannot be. ~ Meagan Amador

Another Definition of Literary Recovery

Literary recovery is the process of uncovering unpublished or relatively unknown texts in history. By discovering such works and bringing them into a new light, we can question and rework the literary canon and better examine literary history. In this course, we have been working within the specific scope of recovering nineteenth century works by American women. The various texts we have read, researched, and written about are texts most have never heard of before, and there is very little conversation surrounding them. By working in this field, we broaden the conversation, work towards adding to the canon, and are better able to examine the nineteenth century. Through this process of recovery, new views, questions, and methods of examination arise concerning the nineteenth century and prevalent issues during that time, such as gender and race. Recovery helps to ensure that certain important works are no longer excluded from the narratives of American literature and demonstrates that there is always more to learn and discover in literary history. ~ Kim Thomas

Recover: to find or identify again

Recovery means breathing new life into a work of literature. When we recover a work that has been lost, we give a new voice to an author. The author used this voice during her time period and for one reason or another it vanished amongst the clutter. Not every voice can speak loud enough for all to hear, but that is where recovery comes in. We clean up the book, story or poem and present it to the world with a new appearance and a new chance; possibly a better chance to thrive where it didn’t fit in originally. Every now and then our discoveries change history. These pieces can revise the literary canon as we know it. Other times, these texts do little in the way of changing our understanding of the past. Occasionally, we find it is just a pretty poem or story. It isn’t imperative that we all alter the world with these overlooked texts. Sometimes it is nice just to remember the ones that we have forgotten. ~ Michelle Hopkins