Hungry Heart: The Literary Emergence of Julia Ward Howe Book uri icon



  • Hungry Heart: The Literary Emergence of Julia Ward Howe is a study of the first two decades of Howe's adult life, based on extensive unpublished materials in Harvard's Houghton and Schlesinger Libraries. It narrates the story of Julia Ward's education, her decision to marry renowned Boston philanthropist Samuel Gridley Howe, the severe marital difficulties they experienced between 1844 and 1857 as a result of (among other issues) her desire to pursue literary and intellectual interests, and her eventual emergence as a writer. It is not a full-scale biography of this period; rather, it establishes a biographical context for understanding her first two collections of poetry (Passion-Flowers, 1854, and Words for the Hour, 1857) and her five-act verse play, The World's Own, produced in New York in 1857. I argue that these three published works constitute a unit, each element of which illuminates the other two; and further, that certain personal events in the late 1850s, as well as the coming of the Civil War and Julia Howe's celebrity as a result of "The Battle Hymn," in effect sealed off this first portion of her life, making 1857 an appropriate terminus for the study.

    This book also examines a never-published 400-page prose narrative that Howe wrote in the late 1840s, featuring a hermaphrodite as its protagonist. I read this startling, fascinating, incomplete work, which frequently ventures into territories proscribed for 19th-century women, as Howe's effort to understand her husband's intimate friendship with Charles Sumner (the details of which I present in Chapter Two). Recent studies of affection between 19th-century men provide a context for theorizing about the challenge Howe faced in conceptualizing the phenomenon and positioning herself in relation to it.

    My goal is to encourage scholars to re-examine Julia Ward Howe's work, which was praised by George Ripley as forming "an entirely unique class in the whole range of female literature." In particular, her audacity, and her skill in masking it, have gone unappreciated. The book offers the first comprehensive, detailed reading of Howe's early poetry. It offers in addition a new perspective on Samuel Gridley Howe and Charles Sumner, men whose extensive achievements helped change the shape of their culture, who have not previously been considered in light of feminist scholarship.

publication date

  • January 1, 1999