Ellen Widmer is a professor of Asian languages and literatures at Wesleyan University. Her specialties include missionaries and literature by Chinese women of the late dynastic period. While at Radcliffe, Widmer plans to finish a book manuscript on the relationship between the Chinese “gentlewoman” (guixiu) and the novel between 1796 and the end of the last dynasty in 1911. She then will extend her analysis into the early twentieth century, to approximately 1930.
Widmer hopes to fill two gaps with this research. First, she seeks to answer the question: Why did Chinese women write few novels before the twentieth century? Although they responded to novels in their poetry and sometimes wrote critiques in prose, they were largely prohibited from writing fiction by social convention. If they wrote at all, they hid their names. Once the twentieth century began, Chinese women’s relationship to fiction changed drastically. In the second phase of her research, Widmer hopes to discover what happened to the connection between gentlewoman status and fiction writing once the old guixiu system began to break down.
Widmer received her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College. She has an MA and a PhD from Harvard University. Widmer will hold a Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation fellowship during her Radcliffe year. She has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Fulbright Program, and the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China; and conference grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Wu Foundation, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, and the Luce Foundation.