Rebecca Harding Davis was a prominent author of radical social fiction during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In stories that combine realism with sentimentalism, Davis confronted a wide range of contemporary American issues, giving voice to working women, prostitutes, wives seeking divorce, celibate utopians, and female authors. Davis broke down distinctions between the private and the public worlds, distinctions that trapped women in the ideology of domesticity.
By engaging current strategies in literary hermeneutics with a strong sense of historical radicalism in the Gilded Age, Jean Pfaelzer reads Davis through the public issues that she forcefully inscribed in her fiction. In this study, Davis's realistic narratives actively construct a coherent social work, not in a fictional vacuum but in direct engagement with the explosive movements of social change from the Civil War through the turn of the century.