The Crux

The Crux

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: Published: July 2003

Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Contributor: Dana Seitler

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction

Long out of print, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel The Crux is an important early feminist work that brings to the fore complicated issues of gender, citizenship, eugenics, and frontier nationalism. First published serially in the feminist journal The Forerunner in 1910, The Crux tells the story of a group of New England women who move west to start a boardinghouse for men in Colorado. The innocent central character, Vivian Lane, falls in love with Morton Elder, who has both gonorrhea and syphilis. The concern of the novel is not so much that Vivian will catch syphilis, but that, if she were to marry and have children with Morton, she would harm the "national stock." The novel was written, in Gilman’s words, as a "story . . . for young women to read . . . in order that they may protect themselves and their children to come." What was to be protected was the civic imperative to produce "pureblooded" citizens for a utopian ideal.

Dana Seitler’s introduction provides historical context, revealing The Crux as an allegory for social and political anxieties—including the rampant insecurities over contagion and disease—in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Seitler highlights the importance of The Crux to understandings of Gilman’s body of work specifically and early feminism more generally. She shows how the novel complicates critical history by illustrating the biological argument undergirding Gilman’s feminism. Indeed, The Crux demonstrates how popular conceptions of eugenic science were attractive to feminist authors and intellectuals because they suggested that ideologies of national progress and U.S. expansionism depended as much on women and motherhood as on masculine contest.


“[The Crux] will expand Gilman’s relevance to scholars of the American West. . . . Scholars of both feminist and western studies will find . . . The Crux to be of remarkable interest.” — Randi Tanglen , Western American Literature

“[A] very interesting [novel], especially if you are a haunted reader of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’ Reading it is akin to poring over the sketches that (early or late) might surround the full-length work of the one-book writer. It allows us to trace in its pages evidence, scattered throughout, of the talent that ran restless in its author throughout her stormy, stubborn, furiously engaged years, yet flared into fully achieved life but once.” — Vivian Gornick , The Nation

“We are fortunate to have the novel back in print. . . . The novel is especially important for contemporary readers not least because of the ways in which it complicates accounts of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century discourses in gender, sexuality, race, class, and ethnicity in a story that combines motifs of women’s friendship and community with ideological questions about economic independence and reproductive choice.” — Laura Castor , American Studies in Scandinavia

"The Crux is an engaging polemic against Victorian sexual double standards. But rather than offering a narrative of sexual liberation, Gilman calls on readers to sacrifice personal pleasure for the nation. . . . If this doesn't sound like the feminism you know and love, The Crux offers an invaluable education on the darker side of the women's movement. . . . The Crux offers a fascinating look at a specific cultural moment in American history, while also reminding us to think critically about even the most 'progressive' movements." — Lauren Kaminsky , Bust

“What a treat to have another Gilman novel—until now largely ignored—available. We are indebted to Duke University Press for publishing it as a separate piece and to Dana Seitler for her provocative and stimulating introduction. The Crux is in many ways a period piece embodying what today seems outmoded and sometimes outrageous views. Oddly, these same views are also startlingly and wickedly relevant today.” — Ann J. Lane, author of To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“With reproductive technologies at the center of feminist, medical, and national debate, The Crux offers a fascinating historical perspective on the relationship of reproduction and nationalism. Dana Seitler's introduction offers a useful context in which to read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's quirky, biology-based feminism, her depiction of a women's community in the west, and, generally, the relationship between fiction-writing and the fashioning of gender roles that fueled Gilman's particular brand of activism.” — Priscilla Wald, author of Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935) was the author of novels, short stories, poems, and works of nonfiction. She is best known for “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), Women and Economics (1898), and the novel Herland (1915).
Dana Seitler is Assistant Professor of Literary Theory and Cultural Studies at Wayne State University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction / Dana Seitler 1

Author's Preface 23

1. The Back Way 25

2. Bainville Effects 36

3. The Outbreak 50

4. Transplanted 60

5. Contrasts 70

6. New Friends and Old 82

7. Side Lights 93

8. A Mixture 105

9. Consequences 120

10. Determination 132

11. Thereafter 145

12. Achievements 158

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3167-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3179-7
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