The Literary Undoing of Victoria Swann

Virginia Pye
Regal House Publishing 2023


It is the dawn of the women’s rights movement in 1895 when Victoria Meeks, the protagonist in Virginia Pye’s novel, The Literary Undoing of Victoria Swann, encounters unimaginable obstacles because she refused to write another “dime store” pamphlet.

…Pye’s offering is unique because it is also historically interesting as she details the class structure and social upheavals in Boston in the late 1880s.


“I’ve become a sausage factory, or a brick works,” she tells her editor, Frederick Gaustad, at the Thames, Royall & Quincy publishing house. Meeks, under the pseudonym, Mrs. Victoria Swann, has been writing romance and adventure narratives and novels as well as penning an advice column. But now she wanted to write about her personal experiences as a woman moving from the farm to Boston and the hurdles she overcame.

When Meeks, at age 18, submitted her first story to Gaustad, he saw her writing as a gold mine. During her 12 years at the publishing firm, the sales of her work increased, but her pay remained the same. One serious writer who only had one book published every three years told her the publishing firm “can’t pay me without you maam.” At the outset, she earned ten cents per pamphlet, but the firm kept the substantial profits from her novels and advice columns. So her failure to continue to produce would mean the publisher couldn’t fulfill their contract obligations with other authors.

An angry Gaustad tells her, “There’s no deviation from that path, regardless of who oversees your efforts.” Then Meeks learns the publishing firm had been sold and she’s been listed as an asset. So, without her the company would suffer major financial losses.

In Pye’s idealistic novel, a young graduate of Harvard, Jonathan Cartwright, along with his friend Curtis Perry, decide to open their own publishing firm and tell Meeks they would publish her serious novel.

Meanwhile, Louis Russell, who bought the Thames, Royall & Quincy publishing house, plots to get even with Meeks for abandoning the firm. Together with Meeks’ husband, an opium drug addict and gambler, they set out to ruin Meeks’ reputation and rob her of her home.

Undeterred, Meeks proceeds with her novel. A lot is at stake with her new book, but Meeks sees her writings as a way to give women courage.  It’s the beginning of the suffragettes and Meeks supports their cause for equal rights and more importantly, for equal pay.

The ending to the novel is predictable, like countless other romance novels where there’s always a happy ending. But Pye’s offering is unique because it’s also historically interesting as she details the class structure and social upheavals in Boston in the late 1880s.

About the Author

Virginia Pye‘s story collection Shelf Life of Happiness won the 2019 IPPY Gold Medal for Short Fiction and her two historical novels set in China, Dreams of the Red Phoenix and River of Dust, also received literary awards. Her essays have appeared in The New York TimesLiterary HubThe Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is Fiction Editor at Pangyrus and has taught writing at NYU, UPenn, and at GrubStreet Writing Center in Boston.