Title

Truth is Stranger than Non-Fiction: Gender, Religion, and Contradiction in the Works of Rose Terry Cooke

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1996

Publisher

University of Nebraska Press

Abstract

Like many of the nineteenth-century New England writers who were her contemporaries, Rose Terry Cooke spent much of her literary career examining the effects of the religious history of her region on the lives of ordinary women and men. In particular, she explored the ways traditional New England religion had affected women, repeatedly suggesting that Calvinism was harder on women than on men, and denouncing the religious sanction of masculine tyranny, particularly within marital and ecclesiastical contexts. Many of her stories explore women's themes quite specifically, both within and outside of a religious context: for instance, the marginal position of the New England spinster-her financial bonds her exclusion from or dependence upon the church; the impossibility of emotional and financial independence for a wife; and the despotic power of husbands, fathers, and ministers over women. But whereas these stories suggest her anger over the disastrous effects for women of traditional religion, her nonfiction statements regarding the condition of women reveal surprisingly regressive notions of religion and gender. Specifically, she not only wholeheartedly endorsed the ideology of True Womanhood, the idealized femininity of religious domesticity, she also vigorously opposed the women's movement, resisting any shift away from a thoroughly domestic notion of female identity. In her non-fiction, Cooke argues against the women's movement, urging her readers to return (for she sees and laments the passing of mid-nineteenth-century domestic ideology) to a belief in a sentimental religion with hearth and horne at its center.