"It needed a very serene or a very powerful mind to resist the temptation to anger,” Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929 in an essay about 19th-century women writers. A woman might start out writing about one thing or another but, before she knew it, she’d find herself “resenting the treatment of her sex and pleading for its rights.” This was a pity, Woolf thought, and a trap she hoped women were on the verge of escaping.
Julia Ward Howe is a good illustration of Woolf’s argument, and also of its limits. Howe started out as a poet and a critic — she wrote about Goethe and Schiller — and she ended up writing about the right to vote. In between, she got very angry. This wasn’t much good for her poetry, but honestly, it’s hard to blame her.