The fiction of Helen Rose Hull

Date of Completion

January 1989


Women's Studies|Literature, American




Helen Hulls' writing career spanned nearly 50 years, beginning in 1914 with the appearance of a one-act play in the suffrage magazine The Woman's Journal and a short story in the leftist Greenwich Village little magazine The Masses. Over the years she published 17 novels, some 65 short stories, several books about writing, and a biographical sketch of her former student, Madam Chiang Kai-shek.^ Hull wrote about a range of subjects that we find compelling today, including the nuances of family interaction, the ramifications of women's economic status, gender differences, the advantages and disadvantages of various kinds of relationships (especially in marriage), child/parent conflict, the shift in moral codes, and class and racial tensions. Her books, however, are not political tracts. These subjects are concerns her characters face in their daily lives and for which they find no simple solutions. She presents her protagonists as learners and traces their Bildung or development.^ Even though Helen Hull's work is largely unknown today, she was highly regarded during most of her years as a publishing writer. Her short fiction appeared in at least 14 different American magazines, including Colliers, Century, Saturday Evening Post, Harper's, Cosmopolitan, and Ladies Home Journal. Following the positive reception in 1922 of her first novel, Quest, her fiction received increasingly laudatory notices, especially in the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and the Boston Transcript. Literary tastes shift, however, and even during the 1930s, when Hull's career was at its peak, a few reviewers had begun to trivialize her work as "women's fiction." By examining Hull's work chronologically, this study traces not only her development as a writer but also the changes in critical response to her work. The first full-length study of Helen Hull, this dissertation blends literary history, literary criticism, and biography in order to introduce Hull's life and work to a new generation of readers. ^