Dr. Elizabeth Petrino's latest book breathes new life into the work of 19th century poet Lydia Sigourney
[Sigourney's] emphasis on equality and social justice makes her work relevant to our own troubled times.
— Elizabeth Petrino, PhD, English professor and associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences
During her lifetime, nineteenth-century author and Norwich, Connecticut-native Lydia Sigourney was acclaimed as America’s most popular woman poet and published widely as an historian, essayist, and educator. Despite her widespread popularity and the social relevancy of work, Sigourney’s writings became largely forgotten in the decades following her death, until a growing number of writers and critics, including Fairfield University's own English professor Elizabeth Petrino, PhD, began reexamining the poet’s body of work in an effort to re-establish her rightful place in literary history.
In her latest book, Lydia Sigourney: Critical Essays and Cultural Views, Dr. Petrino and co-editor Mary Louise Kete, associate professor of English at the University of Vermont, present the first collection of original essays devoted to Sigourney’s work and gather insight from many of her best scholars in one comprehensive volume of work. The publication includes critical essays examining the poet’s literary texts, as well as essays that explore her participation in the cultural movements of the nineteenth-century.
“In addition to being one of the most popular, well-read, and erudite authors of her day, I believe Sigourney was one of the biggest social activist poets in our literary tradition,” Dr. Petrino said. “She was interested in advocating for women’s education and children’s welfare, and her emphasis on equality and social justice makes her work relevant to our own troubled times. One might say that she made it possible for conservative, middle-class Victorian women to embrace a much more progressive, even radical political view.”
Growing up as the daughter of a gardener in Norwich, Connecticut, Sigourney witnessed and wrote about a range of social atrocities from slavery and women’s rights to the treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill. Holding powerful opinions about the role of women in society, Sigourney was not afraid to advocate against government policies that she believe undermined the promise of America.
“Reading Sigourney’s writing today allows us to better understand the desire to call into question these biases in nineteenth-century culture and our own history,” Dr. Petrino said. “It reminds us of what makes us human and advocates for the greater good. I hope this book inspires readers to delve more deeply into Sigourney’s works, as well as those by her still-neglected female contemporaries.”
Dr. Petrino chaired Fairfield University’s English Department for five years, and currently serves as an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. She received her B.A. in English and American Literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Nineteenth-Century American Literature from Cornell University.