Interrogating Voices offers a brief but representative collection of engaging short stories authored by eleven American women writers spanning from the antebellum period to the early years of the twentieth century. These authors, pertaining to different ethnic origins, helped shape American short fiction and recreated in their texts their unflagging eagerness to participate in the political, economic, social, cultural and racial issues of their times.
The short story, explains Alfred Bendixen, is "an American invention, and arguably the most important literary genre to have emerged in the United States" (3). Critics seem to agree on claiming Washington Irving as the originator of the genre with his celebrated "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." His success encouraged other authors to follow his literary path and thus, from its beginning in the early nineteenth century, the short story was a genre that was soon adopted by American women writers. The increasing number of periodicals facilitated the proliferation of the form. From antebellum Godey's Lady's Book (1830) and The American Ladies Magazine and Literary Gazette (1837), aimed at a female readership, to postwar Harper's , Century Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly , addressed to the general public, among many others, all these magazines facilitated the incorporation of women into the writing marketplace. The narratives presented here are included in what, according to Andrew J. Furer, are "the two major eras of the short story" which "parallel the two great upsurges of American reform impulses" (187). Lydia Maria Child's "Slavery's Pleasant Homes" (1843) and Louisa May Alcott's "My Contraband" (1863) belong to a period which witnessed the development of the temperance and abolitionist movements. As Jane Tomkins made clear in her study of Uncle Tom's Cabin , these women writers' turn to the cult of domesticity deploying radical strategies of what she called a "sentimental power" to crusade against the evils of their society. The rest of the stories, published during the late nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, appeared at a time which saw the growth of labor reform, anti-imperialism, suffragism and women's rights movements together with the fight against racism, segregation and immigration laws. These women writers devoted their efforts not only to one reform movement but, in the vast majority of their cases, their concerns overlapped a variety of social concerns.
Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) ranks among the most influential and prolific reform writers of her time and was hailed by the reputed abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison as "the first woman in the republic." Abolitionist, North American Indians' and women's rights advocate, writer, editor, journalist, and speaker, she published her first novel, Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times in 1824, a story in which she already stepped ahead of her time and portrayed the inter-racial love between an Indian man and a white woman. Unfortunately, as Carolyn L. Karcher explains, her reputation "was erased from history when the backlash against Reconstruction that began even before her death destroyed almost everything she had fought for" (xi).
In 1841 she became editor of the Antislavery Standard and welcomed fiction related to social reform. Her narrative "The Quadroons," originally written in 1842, was published together with "The Black Saxons" (1841) and "Slavery's Pleasant Homes" (1843), in Maria Weston Chapman's abolitionist annual The Liberty Bell (1843). Critics are u