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A distant cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne, prolific writer Elizabeth Stoddard (1823-1902) was born in Mattapoisett. In her most famous novel The Morgesons, heroine Cassandra Morgeson overcomes constraints and emerges as an affirmation of a woman’s power to shape her own destiny. Today, Barstow Street in Mattapoisett commemorates Elizabeth and her family.
Elizabeth Stoddard was born in the seaside town of Mattapoisett in 1823. A distant cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne, she was educated at Wheaton Seminary (now college). She married poet Richard Stoddard in 1852 and they settled permanently in New York City where they both became members of the very vibrant literary and artistic circles. While she did considerable work with her husband, she also wrote and contributed stories, poems and essays to the periodicals of the time. Many of her works were published in such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar and The Atlantic Monthly.
In addition to these articles, she also wrote children’s tales, essays, travel writing and journalism pieces. Her primary fame comes from the three novels that she wrote – the most famous being The Morgesons. While her style of writing was compatible with the time, her topics and treatment of those topics were way ahead of the time. She was not afraid to show the conflict between a woman’s passion, will, and instinct set against the social taboos, family allegiances and traditional New England restraint that inhibited the women of that time. Cassandra Morgeson, the heroine of The Morgesons, overcomes all of these restrictions and emerges as an affirmation of a woman’s power to shape her own destiny.
A precursor of today’s modernistic approach to this power of women, her work is remarkable for its “lack of sentimentality, pervasive use of irony, psychological depth of richly-drawn characters, intense atmospheric descriptions of New England, and concise language. She had an innovative use of narrative voice and structure in investigating the relations between the sexes in analyzing emotions ranging from love and desire to disdain, aggression and depression.”
In her lifetime she was compared to George Eliot and the Bronte sisters. She died in 1902 after a long illness. Today, Barstow Street in Mattapoisett commemorates Elizabeth and her family.
Stockton, Elizabeth. “‘A Crusade against Duty’: Property, Self-Possession, and the Law in the Novels of Elizabeth Stoddard.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 79, no. 3, 2006, pp. 413-438.