Fanfiction and the “Damned Mob of Scribbling Women”

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“America is now wholly given over to a d[amne]d mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public is occupied with their trash.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another essay on fanfiction I’ve been meaning to tackle for awhile is the similarities I see between fanfiction, and the 19th c. sentimental novel

A quick recap: women have been writing novels just as long if not longer then men. When the novel was first created, it was considered a lower former and, as Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses in this article, it was only after considerable effort put in to the novel form by women, elevating its medium, that it suddenly became respectable and those women’s names were, by and large forgotten by time as “lower” once male authors took to it.

The quote above by Hawthorne is a well-known one, where he lamented that his own high-brow works simply couldn’t compete against the trashy novels being published by the women of his era, as in fact, these women were outselling him by 100,000s of copies. It may actually be that, well, no one really enjoyed his work. One of the novels of this era, part of the sentimental movement that Hawthorne was criticizing was a little book you may have heard of called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe which, its problematic aspects aside, is credited by Abraham Lincoln for helping to start the Civil War. This was because it was one of the first accessible books to actually describe the horrors of slavery, and slaves as people, in such a way that people felt an emotional of sentimentality and horror towards slavery enough to stand up en masse and call for it to end. So these “sentimental” trashy novels Hawthorne hated actually had historic ramifications because they were emotional and made people feel things. In fact, the sentimental movement is also credited with helping to bring sympathy to other social causes, like ending the death penalty, child labor, and other social ills, (which I can’t help but notice is somewhat similar to fanfiction and the push for LGBTQ* rights that making beloved characters gay actually helped to push as a cause among young women).

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