The popularity of women raised the hackles of many male authors, most famously Nathaniel Hawthorne who complained about the “mob of scribbling women” with whom he competed in the literary marketplace (304). While James’s and Hawthorne’s attitudes toward women writers have long garnered scholarly interest, critics such as Susan Coultrap-McQuin, Melissa Homestead, and Susan Williams have recently explored exactly how nineteenth-century women successfully navigated the publishing industry despite their marginal status in society. As Coultrap-McQuin claims, “the mid-nineteenth-century marketplace may actually have been more congenial to women than any later one, since by the end of the century there was a good deal of emphasis on developing a more impersonal, modern, and ‘masculine’ approach to literary business” (xii). Likewise, Loren Glass argues that the emergence of a hypermasculine image of authorship in the early twentieth century was a reaction “against the feminized cultural marketplace” often seen by male writers as a “devouring mother/machine” (18). In this essay, I re-examine this commonly recognized gender conflict within a familial context. I focus specifically on the ways in which the sons of two best-selling nineteenth-century novelists came to terms with the success of their mothers by depicting them as quaint, domesticated writers redolent of a feminized Victorian past while forging more virile, modern, and professional roles for themselves. I argue that these intensely nurturing mother-mentors may
well have seemed all the more “devouring” for having been so instrumental in launching their sons’ writing careers.