American Literature Elizabeth Stoddard
Cindy Murillo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0147


Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard (b. 1823–d. 1902) wrote journalistic pieces, novels, short stories, juvenilia fiction, essays, travel literature, and poetry. She was reared in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, a fishing village on the northwest shore of Buzzards Bay. This intense and often-bleak seacoast environment provided the setting and the characters found in her best work. The second of nine children, Stoddard grew up in a fairly affluent family, although several of her father’s business ventures failed. After attending Wheaton Female Seminary for one term in 1837 and again in 1840–1841, she traveled in New England and to New York City where—in 1851 at the age of twenty-eight—she met Richard Stoddard, an aspiring poet. Married in 1852, Elizabeth and Richard lived in New York City. Money was tight even though Richard was gainfully employed in a Custom House job secured by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a distant relation to Elizabeth. She bore three children, only one of whom lived to adulthood. The couple sporadically held a salon for aspiring artists, actors, and writers, members of what literary historians have called “the genteel circle.” During the 1850s, Stoddard began publishing poetry, sketches, and short fiction in such journals as Harper’s Monthly and the Atlantic Monthly. Between 1854 and 1858, she wrote a bimonthly column for the San Francisco Daily Alta California. Full of witty commentary, Stoddard’s “letters” regularly reported on the New York cultural scene. These columns reveal a skeptical Stoddard as she critiqued accepted customs of her contemporaneous society—institutionalized religion, manifest destiny, established religion, and the cult of true womanhood. Stoddard’s columns mocked the values of the sentimental novel with its focus on self-denial. She followed these nearly seventy-five apprentice pieces with the novels The Morgesons (1862), Two Men (1865), and Temple House (1867). All three were well received by critics, but none achieved financial success. During the 1860s, Stoddard also published the best of her short fiction, often set in her childhood in New England. Her last major achievement was a collection of children’s tales called Lolly Dinks’s Doings (1874), a complex interplay of curious and peculiar incidents and characters. Her somewhat impoverished life with Richard required her to produce hack pieces that caused her to question her own artistic abilities. Writing in an era that endorsed the domesticity of women, Stoddard failed to find an audience, not only because of her intensely eroticized novels, but also because of her oblique narrative style. She died from a long illness on 1 August 1902.

General Overviews

Stoddard’s work was praised by such authors as W. D. Howells and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who compared her work to the fiction of Ivan Turgenev, Honoré de Balzac, the Brontës, and Thomas Hardy. As a result, her novels were reissued in 1888, 1889, and 1901 and were more favorably received than in their original publication. The works in this section aim to provide an overview of a complex, talented, and iconoclastic woman. Although prolific during her career, attention to her work waned after her death, and it was not until the late 1960s that interest in her began to flourish. Some of the biographical information on Stoddard can be found in the four articles she contributed to the Saturday Evening Post in 1899 and 1900, but the most comprehensive source we have is an unpublished dissertation. Matlack 1968 helped recover Stoddard’s lost fiction, and the Johnson Reprint Corporation, in Foster 1971, provides an introduction and notes in its reissue of all three of her novels. Matlack 1974 provides an overview of Stoddard’s life while serving as a correspondent for the Daily Alta California. Themes and publishing history are conveyed in Zagarell 1991, while Stoddard 1997 is a later issue of the novel and includes an in-depth introduction, along with explanatory notes, to a final reprint of The Morgesons Penguin edition—well suited for the classroom. Stoddard 1903 provides a very brief but nonetheless important personal glimpse of Elizabeth from her husband’s perspective, while Hynes 1999 offers a concise overview of Stoddard’s life and writing career.

  • Foster, Richard, ed. “Introduction.” In The Morgesons. By Elizabeth Stoddard, vii–xxxviii. New York: Johnson, 1971.

    Although somewhat dated, this introduction provides summaries and close readings of The Morgesons, Two Men, and Temple House, as well as comments on her correspondence with other writers and critical receptions of her work; includes a catalogue of secondary sources on Stoddard. Helpful in its listing of all critical scholarship prior to 1971.

  • Hynes, Jennifer. “Elizabeth Stoddard.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography: Nineteenth-Century American Fiction Writers. Edited by Kent Ljungquist, 855–857. Detroit: Gale, 1999.

    Helpful in its chronology of the events in her life that may have helped define her writing choices. Provides brief summaries of her three major novels, The Morgesons, Two Men, and Temple House, along with a selected list of secondary sources prior to 1999.

  • Matlack, James H. “The Literary Career of Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard.” PhD diss., Yale University, 1968.

    The only biography on Stoddard. Combines analyses of her manuscripts, journalism, poetry, and fiction. Also summarizes and critiques well-known and less known works. Provides the most comprehensive list of publications by Stoddard and an annotated inventory of her papers and manuscript holdings. More detail on Stoddard’s journalistic contributions can be found in Matlack 1974.

  • Matlack, James H. “The Alta California’s Lady Correspondent.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly 58.4 (1974): 280–303.

    Discusses the three-year period in which Stoddard, struggling to be a writer in New York City as well as “a voice from the East” (p. 285), served as the “Lady Correspondent” at the Daily Alta California. Also includes biographical information and provides detail on her writing style.

  • Stoddard, Richard Henry. Recollections: Personal and Literary. Edited by Ripley Hitchcock. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1903.

    Introduced by Edmund Clarence Stedman, provides an essential overview of the life of Stoddard’s husband, genteel poet Richard Stoddard, who illuminates aspects of his wife’s life captured only in some of her correspondence. Although a majority of the book traces Richard’s early life, readers will find of particular interest his reminiscences of his courtship and marriage to Elizabeth, whom he found “willful” (p. 108).

  • Stoddard, Elizabeth. The Morgesons. Edited by Lawrence Buell and Sandra Zagarell. New York: Penguin, 1997.

    With introduction and notes, this reissue of The Morgesons provides an important contribution to Stoddard scholarship with its concise biographical introduction to Stoddard and her fiction, alongside a brief compendium of literary criticism on her fiction and detailed explanatory notes to The Morgesons. Because this work contextualizes Stoddard, it is a must-read for students and scholars alike who are interested in Stoddard’s longer work.

  • Zagarell, Sandra A. “Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard (1823–1902).” Legacy 8.1 (1991): 39–49.

    Zagarell provides an excellent overview of Stoddard’s life and writing, including themes, publication history, and her circle of literary friends. Mentions correspondence written between her and Margaret Sweat, a longtime friend, which is covered in more depth in Putzi and Stockton 2012 (cited under Correspondence). Of particular interest to scholars is Zagarell’s division of Stoddard’s writing into three categories and her list of secondary sources.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.