The Hermaphrodite


The Hermaphrodite

Julia Ward Howe
Edited and with an introduction by Gary Williams

Legacies of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers Series

264 pages


January 2009


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Written in the 1840s and published here for the first time, Julia Ward Howe’s novel about a hermaphrodite is unlike anything of its time—or, in truth, of our own. Narrated by Laurence, who is raised and lives as a man and is loved by men and women alike, yet can respond to neither, this unconventional story explores the realization “that fervent hearts must borrow the disguise of art, if they would win the right to express, in any outward form, the internal fire that consumes them.” Laurence describes his repudiation by his family, his involvement with an attractive widow, his subsequent wanderings and eventual attachment to a sixteen-year-old boy, his own tutelage by a Roman nobleman and his sisters, and his ultimate reunion with his early love. His is a story unique in nineteenth-century American letters, at once a remarkable reflection of a largely hidden inner life and a richly imagined tale of coming-of-age at odds with one’s culture.

Author Bio

Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910) is best remembered as the poet who wrote the words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Her literary fame was augmented by her eventual role as an activist for women's rights and her efforts to mobilize women for various peace efforts. Gary Williams is a professor of English at the University of Idaho and the author of Hungry Heart: The Literary Emergence of Julia Ward Howe.


"What was probably her [Julia Ward Howe's] most unusual work has remained unpublished until now. The 'Laurence manuscript'—actually, manuscript fragments—has dwelt in literary limbo in a box in Harvard University's Houghton Library. Now the novel has been stitched together by Gary Williams. . . . and released as The Hermaphrodite with a revealing introduction."—Chronicle of Higher Education

"The publication of the book is one of the most exciting developments in nineteenth-century American literary studies of the past decades. It parallels the recovery of many other works by women and writers of color, but because it is an intersexual text, it also brings a new voice and perspective into scholarly conversations. . . . Howe's writings are newly important. We are lucky that they are available to us."—Renée Bergland, Legacy

"William's introduction to the volume contextualizes Howe's manuscript and provides fuel for interpretive thought."—Rebecca Resinski, Key Reporter

"Scholars, teachers, and students of American studies are fortunate that Williams has edited, published, and introduced contemporary readers to Julia Ward Howe's Laurence manuscripts. The Hermaphrodite opens new perspectives on Julia Ward Howe. In this novel we hear the voice of the author as an important intellectual, and an astute critique of American culture who would later gain acclaim as an exemplary advocate for the rights of African Americans and women."—Laura Castor, American Studies in Scandinavia

The Hermaphrodite should be especially alluring to students of queer theory, since it has taken over a century and a half for the book to come out of the closet. . . . A historically relevant and enduring novel.” —Liz Webster, CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women

Table of Contents

Speaking with the Voices of Others: Julia Ward Howe's Laurence
A Note on the Text
The Hermaphrodite
     Section 1
     Section 2
     Section 3
Appendix 1
Appendix 2

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