The article reads Margaretta Matilda Odell's 1834 biography of the pioneering African American poet in light of Odell's own life story, which ended in a decades-long confinement in a private insane asylum. While previous scholars, many of whom have been justifiably skeptical of Odell's account, have located a covert racial agenda in her work, I identify the influence of a distinctly gendered anxiety shaping Odell's text. Rewriting Wheatley's history as a narrative of extrafamilial female solidarity, Odell addresses her own vulnerable position as an unmarried woman in an era in which perceptions of female worth and identity remained heavily tied to the domestic sphere.
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- Biography and life writing
- Colonial New England
- Gender and race
- Gender studies
- Mental institutions
- Nineteenth-century New England
- Phillis Wheatley