Tyler, Martha W.
TYLER, Martha W.
Born circa 1830s; died death date unknown
The only surviving biographical information about Martha W. Tyler is what can be surmised from her only known novel, the autobiographical A Book Without a Title; or, Thrilling Events in the Life of Mira Dana (1855).
Mira Dana, Tyler's heroine, challenges any definition of womanhood forcing her to submit to tyrannical authority. Her early battles with the Lowell mill owners who employ her as a factory operative become the model for her subsequent encounters with all representatives of male power, be they husbands, doctors, lawyers, bankers, or publishers. In this, the first American novel to depict a strike, Mira convinces her coworkers to oppose an arbitrarily imposed pay cut. The decision to become a striker entails a new definition for womanhood, a definition predicated on woman's right to justice and self-expression. Mira explains, "ought we not [to strike], when they are striving to crush our very souls for cursed gold? They'll find that there is one girl in Lowell who dares to speak of liberty and act like a true woman."
In her preface Tyler explains that her novel should be read not as a work of art but as a direct attack on the misuses of mate authority. She describes a world in which the supposedly reciprocal relationship between the sexes has broken down. She asks how women can be expected to behave properly within their own sphere when men neither respect women's sphere nor fulfill their obligations within the male sphere.
Although difficult to read because of its erratic plot and often tortured prose, the novel merits resurrection because of the intriguing information it provides for both the historian and the literary critic. Tyler pays attention to the early women factory workers, the mid-19th-century phenomena of bank failures and financial crises, and the consequences of structuring a society according to the doctrine of separate sexual spheres.
Like her contemporaries Harriet Beecher Stowe and Fanny Fern, Tyler wrote fiction in explicitly political terms, while writing within the popular tradition of domestic fiction written for women. Like many of the female novelists who wrote during the mid-19th century, Tyler, in drawing attention to various aspects of women's position in society, was in part responsible for the popularization of those issues which would eventually develop the struggle for women's rights into a mass movement.
Blake, F., The Strike in the American Novel (1972). Hill, V. L., "Strategy and Breadth: The Socialist-Feminist in American Fiction" (dissertation, 1979).
—VICKI LYNN HILL