In Memoriam: Shari Gabrielson Goodmann

This post was contributed by Shari’s friend, Suzanne Ferriss, PH.D., Professor of English at Nova Southeastern University.

Shari (Benstock) Gabrielson Goodmann, December 2, 1944-May 26, 2015

Wharton fans and scholars will note, with great sadness, the loss of Shari Gabrielson Goodmann, who recently passed away after a ten-year battle with early onset dementia. Under the name Shari Benstock, she published “No Gifts from Chance”: A Biography of Edith Wharton (1994), as well as a critical edition of The House of Mirth. Her meticulously researched biography challenged previous accounts, by R W B Lewis and others, to offer a more modern and complex portrait of the Pulitzer-prize winning author as a woman who “fashioned life to her own desires.”

Shari.  Photo by Irmelie Jung.
Shari. Photo by Irmelie Jung.

Shari’s interest in Wharton emerged from decades of scholarly work on the intersection of women’s lives and literature (as well as a personal attachment to the Berkshires). Her book Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940 (1986), a study of over two dozen expatriate women writers, including Wharton, was groundbreaking in its fusion of history, biography and literary criticism. Thirty years after its initial publication it remains an invaluable resource for scholars of French and English literature, for historians of the modernist period, and for those interested in women’s literature, lives and sexuality.

As an editor of books and journals, Shari not only granted greater visibility and significance to women writers but to the scholars studying them. She was tapped by Germaine Greer to edit Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature and, with Celeste Schenck, created one of the first book series devoted to women’s writing and feminist scholarship, “Reading Women Writing,” at Cornell University Press. Her edited collection on women’s autobiography, The Private Self (1986), has become a classic in feminist literary scholarship. I had the good fortune to collaborate with her on three books: A Handbook of Literary Feminism (2002), an intellectual history of literary feminism in the United States and Great Britain from the Renaissance to the present, and two edited collections on the cultural study of fashion: On Fashion (1994) and Footnotes: On Shoes (2001). Generous, ebullient, funny, she touched the lives of generations of scholars and students—at the University of Tulsa, the University of Miami and beyond—and will continue to do so through her published works.

Shari composed much of her Wharton biography at her second home in South Egremont and made frequent visits to the Mount, establishing friendships with those working on its restoration and preservation. Almost exactly fourteen years ago (on July 30, 2001), she appeared on C-SPAN’s American Writers series to discuss Wharton’s life and work. Filmed on location at The Mount, the episode serves as a lasting testament both to Wharton’s contributions to literature, landscape architecture, and interior design, and to Shari’s formidable intellectual gifts. You can view the episode here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?165364-1/writings-edith-wharton

Her husband, Tom Goodmann, who cared for Shari during her long illness, asks that In lieu of other memorials, donations may be made in her name to The Mount, which she described as “rising upward and outward to sun and air.”

Donations can be made by contacting The Mount’s Development office at 413-551-5100 or lcodwise@edithwharton.org