Famous Last Words traces a broad historical transition- from the 1840s to the 1980s- from the more rigid dichotomy of the Victorian novel, in which good women must marry and fallen women die, to the more open alternatives of twentieth-century fiction, which sometimes permit the independent female protagonist to survive and occasionally allow alternative constructions of gender as well as plot.
Each essay treats a narrative- novel, novella, or novel poem- by a single author in light of conventions of closure and of gender in historical context. The contributors recover forgotten texts, revise our understanding of women writers once successful, but now somewhat marginalized, and give voice to cultural "others." Works by the already canonized George Eliot are reassessed, and the representation of women in the canonical novels of male writers William Thackeray and Henry James is explored.
Alison Booth is Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Greatness Engendered: George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.