Current Issue

Volume 34, No. 2 2017

Editor’s Note, Susan Tomlinson


Hidden in Plain Sight: Uncovering the Career of Lucretia Howe Newman Coleman

Jennifer Harris, University of Waterloo

abstract forthcoming 

Word Become Flesh: Literacy, Anti-literacy, and Illiteracy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Faye Halpern, University of Calgary

This article opens up Uncle Tom’s Cabin to new avenues of inquiry by situating it within the history of reading in America. Stowe wants to cultivate a practice of reading that turns a newspaper description of a runaway slave into the “real presence of distress”; only in that way, she believes, can written words move a reader to action. Stowe harks back to earlier, “intensive” practices of reading, ones that had been ascendant in Europe and early America and were still operating in the community of American evangelical readers. Instead of accepting the reading practices that were developing among secular readers in the antebellum period, the novel develops a contrary sense of what true literacy entails. If we analyze the novel’s notion of a literacy grounded in communal orality–in groups of people reading aloud to each other–we can see how Uncle Tom’s Cabin upends a notion of literacy grounded in the silent, isolated activity of decoding words on a page, an act construed today to be at the center of adult literacy. Analyzing Uncle Tom’s Cabin in terms of a history of reading can explain the novel’s tremendous but uneven power across time and with different readers. Uncle Tom’s Cabin goes to work on its readers through carefully calibrated lessons in (anti-)literacy: it creates its own intended audience. However, there are certain readers who remain peculiarly resistant to its lessons. One such group is contemporary professors of literature, whose very identity as a particular kind of reader becomes threatened.

States of Innocence: Harriet Beecher Stowe, London Needlewomen, and the New England Novel

Gretchen Murphy, University of Texas at Austin

This paper draws on archival work revealing Stowe’s entanglement with the London Association for the Aid and Benefit of Dressmakers and Milliners, showing how Stowe’s uncomfortable relationship with that organization motivated her subsequent depictions of needlewomen in her transitional work of regionalism The Minister’s Wooing (1862). The Minister’s Wooing represents the figure of the independent needlewoman as an equal member of an imagined New England village, an equality that evades labor exploitation and class stratification and averts the political self-representation of London needleworkers such as Jane Le Plastrier, who commented on Stowe while advocating for London dressmakers. This archival context complicates interpretations of the novel’s utopic elements as expressions of Stowe’s feminist matriarchal vision (Harris, Schultz). Understanding these novels as motivated by Stowe’s discomfort with the ways that London needleworkers had used Stowe’s fame in a public labor dispute sheds light not only the on novel’s cultural work, but also on the problems of Stowe’s self-fashioning as a political strategist and female celebrity, and the era’s discursive configuration of slave and wage labor.

Creating a “Democratic Neighborhood” through Poetic Exchange: Lucy Larcom’s An Idyl of Work

Robin Rudy Smith, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This essay argues that in 1875, Lucy Larcom, the most famous woman writer to emerge from the antebellum literary culture surrounding the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, proposed a means of ameliorating tensions in a postbellum society grappling with increasing socioeconomic and ethnic heterogeneity: use poetry to create social harmony out of dissonance. She did this through An Idyl of Work, her blank-verse epic account of the friendship of five female factory workers that is punctuated by the sonnets, ballads, and hymns that the women share with each other to form a stronger community. In Idyl, different poetic genres have different emotional effects, and Larcom’s protagonists carefully adapt the form of their poetic expression to the emotional needs of their audience. In so doing, they fuse disparate and resistant individuals into a community that values adaptability, selflessness, and compassion, and that prepares working women for the career and social mobility that Larcom feared was lacking in postbellum America. Her concern for mobility led Larcom to infuse the poems that the women use to advise each other with the echoes of well-known British and American male poets. Larcom’s own literary career had shown her the value of being able to work effectively with male poets, especially her mentor Whittier, and she engages with the work of male poets to highlight and expand on themes of fellowship and solidarity in the original works, and to revise features of the original poems that she views as undemocratic.

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Legacy Profile

The Girl Reporter in Fact and Fiction: Miriam Michelson’s New Woman and Periodical Culture in the Progressive Era

Lori Harrison-Kahan and Karen E. H. Skinazi

This profile contributes to ongoing attempts to expand the canon of suffrage literature by introducing an overlooked figure, journalist and fiction writer Miriam Michelson (1870-1942). Considering Michelson’s coverage of women’s conventions, such as the 1895 Woman’s Congress of the Pacific Coast, for the San Francisco Call alongside short stories that she published in the Saturday Evening Post and other mass circulation magazines, we explore how she mobilized Progressive-era print culture to advocate rights for women and to expand their participation in the public sphere. While Michelson’s oeuvre offers a colorful panoply of New Women characters, from suffragettes and female criminals to Hawaiian princesses and Amazonian goddesses, we contend that the figure of the newspaperwoman—whether rendered in the journalistic persona Michelson assumed for her first-person reportage or in the fictional “girl-reporter” Rhoda Massey, heroine of her 1905 Yellow Journalist series—served as the writer’s “best and strongest argument for woman suffrage.” Examining Michelson’s use of different forms of print (the daily newspaper and the mass circulation magazine) as well as different genres (journalism and serial fiction), we show that periodical culture remains a rich and still un-mined site for feminist scholarship. This profile provides context for the two reprints that follow by offering aliterary-biographical overview of Michelson’s life and career, focusing on the way that female reporters used their own identities as professional women to debunk negative stereotypes about, and create more constructive prototypes for, New Womanhood.

The Milpitas Maiden: A Story of Some Women’s Rights and Others’ Sufferance

Miriam Michelson

The Real New Woman. Miriam Michelson Likens Her to a Pleasant Dream, Not a Nightmare 

Miriam Michelson

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Legacy Reprint

The Building of a Reformer: Mary Livermore’s Poetic Involvement in the Anti-gallows Campaign of the 1840s

Birte Christ

Orrin de Wolf

Mary Livermore

The Conqueror and the Murderer

Mary Livermore

Birte Christ republishes two poems by Mary Ashton Rice Livermore (1820-1905): “Orrin de Wolf” (1845) and “The Conqueror and the Murderer” (1845). These poems appeared in the Boston-based anti-gallows paper The Hangman and are clearly identified as authored by Livermore, but have so far gone unnoticed in scholarship on her life and work. Livermore was one of the most well-known women in the nineteenth-century United States. She served as the associate director of the US Sanitary Commission during the Civil War and, afterwards, pursued a career as lyceum lecturer, advocating women’s suffrage and temperance. Her achievements, however, were largely forgotten by the mid-twentieth century, in part because she destroyed all her private papers before her death. The newly discovered poems contribute to a deeper understanding of Livermore’s work as a reformer and literary author in at least three ways. First, they shed new light on the pre-Civil War life of Mary Livermore: the existence of the poems demonstrates that Livermore participated more actively in antebellum reformist causes than previously thought. Second, although the poems are part of the genre of popular anti-gallows poetry of the 1840s and 1850s, each transcends the usual poetic treatment of the issue of capital punishment and attests to Livermore’s literary ambitions. Third, by way of an intertextual reference, Livermore fashions herself as an heir to Anna Letitia Barbauld’s radical politics and thus as an activist building on a vibrant transatlantic history of women’s political work.

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Review Essay

Consuming Dickinson 

Alexandra Socarides

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Website Reviews

Memorable Days: The Emilie Davis Diaries, directed by Judith Giesberg

Desirée Henderson

Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide Worlddirected by Jessica DeSpain, Jennifer Brady, Melissa White, and Jill Kristen Anderson

Brenda Glascott

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Book Reviews

Female Piety and the Invention of American Puritanism, by Bryce Traister

Ashley Reed

Civil War Nurse Narratives, 1863-1870, by Daneen Wardrop

Thomas Lawrence Long

Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism, by J. Samaine Lockwood

Travis M. Foster

Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton, edited by Mary Chapman

Hsuan L. Hsu

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