Saturday, February 4, 2012

Five best portraits of pioneering women

John T. Matteson has an A.B. in history from Princeton University and a Ph.D. English from Columbia University. He also holds a J.D. from Harvard and has practiced as a litigation attorney in California and North Carolina. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; The Harvard Theological Review; New England Quarterly; Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies; and other publications. His 2007 book, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

Matteson's new book is The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography.

One of his five best books about boundary-pushing women, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Dorothea Lange
by Linda Gordon (2009)

Though it's possible that you do not know the name Dorothea Lange, you probably know her photographs: the raw, intense gaze of a migrant worker, a mother with two children leaning on her, in 1930s California; the grim man in a San Francisco bread line, as weather-beaten as his slouch hat and worn-out coat. Lange could photograph suffering so well because she had known it; she survived childhood polio. Linda Gordon's biography would be essential reading if only for its harrowing description of Lange's disease, or for its finely wrought exegesis on the iconic migrant-mother image: "The picture could even be said to stand for the nation, much as Marianne stands for France—Migrant Mother is the enduring, ultimately invincible nation enduring a terrible collective tragedy." But the book is sharply crafted throughout as it tells the story of a woman who made a name for herself in an era when photography was still a largely male preserve. "Lange's photographs will always evoke the best in American democracy," Gordon writes. "Dorothea Lange" evokes the best in chronicles of artists' lives and work.
Read about the other books on Matteson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue