by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
Pub Date 15 Oct 2019
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Though not well known today, Phelps’s 1868 spiritualist novel, The Gates Ajar, which offered a comforting view of the afterlife to readers traumatized by the Civil War, was the century’s second best-selling American novel, surpassed only by Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Recently scholars and readers have begun to reexamine Phelps’s significance. As contemporary authors, including Peter Singer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Donna J. Haraway, Gary L. Francione, and Carol J. Adams, have extended her vision, they have also created new audiences for her work.
“Phelps’s efforts on behalf of temperance, dress reform, suffrage, prison reform, and education for girls were part of growing social movements, but her opposition to vivisection never found the wide audience she was used to. As Emily VanDette notes in her introduction, Phelps was far ahead of her time in the fiction, essays, and addresses she wrote against this cruel and often unnecessary practice.” —Roxanne Harde, coeditor of The Embodied Child: Readings in Children’s Literature and Culture?