Veribly a Purple Cow: The Whole Family and the Collaborative Search for Coherence

  • Susanna Ashton


As attested to by its very name, The Whole Family was a project concerned with coherence. Published serially in Harper’s Bazar from 1907–1908, this collaborative novel was a remarkable instance of narrative structure assembled by its editor, Elizabeth Jordan. Featuring chapters by William Dean Howells, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Henry James, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Mary Stewart Cutting, John Kendrick Bangs, Henry Van Dyke, Alice Brown, Mary Heaton Vorse, Edith Wyatt, Mary Shipman Andrews, and Elizabeth Jordan herself, the novel garnered considerable critical attention when it first appeared, with the acclaim usually citing The Whole Family’s surprisingly holistic qualitites as key to its success (“The uniformity of style is remarkable” remarked one wondrous reader) (C. F. S. 1182). And, despite the Nation’s assessment of it as “pure vaudeville,” and Jordan’s own description of it as“a mess,” The Whole Family engaged the very idea of coherence as criterion for artistic success in a manner that marked a particular historical moment (“Current Fiction” Nation 553; Jordan, Three Rousing Cheers 258). The appearance of The Whole Family during a period characterized by the rapid professionalization of authorship brought together an assessment of coherency with a troubled assessment of artistry. The idea of artistic coherence as necessarily made up by representations of shifting subjectivities offered a provocative alternative to a fixed understanding of coherence as seamless.


Narrative Structure Young Lady Literary Agent Family Project Collaborative Writing 
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© Susanna Ashton 2003

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  • Susanna Ashton

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