Current Issue

Volume 34, No. 1 2017

Editor’s Note, Jennifer S. Tuttle

Forum: Envisioning America’s Future: Lydia Maria Child and Social Justice

Guest Editor: Sarah Olivier, University of Denver


Sarah Olivier

The Lydia Maria Child Society was founded in 2015, and the occasion brought together a group of distinguished scholars, including Carolyn L. Karcher, Karen L. Kilcup, Hildegard Hoeller, Bruce Mills, Robert Fanuzzi, and Dana D. Nelson, who shared their thoughts on the author’s social engagements. This Forum, guest edited by Sarah Olivier, provides a deepened continuation of that discussion in order to reflect further on the goals of a new author society that seeks to foster the pursuit of social justice and inclusive excellence. Contributors highlight the relevancy of Child’s literary endeavors to our twenty-first-century world, covering topics such as racial injustice, religious intolerance, mass incarceration, immigration, environmental rights, gender equality, and new abolition movements. They unpack the radical models of citizenship that Child imagined in envisioning America’s potential future as a multiracial egalitarian republic. This forum demonstrates the extent to which Child deserves further recognition and examination within multiple facets of American studies, while illuminating the pedagogical possibilities that teaching Child in the classroom presents. Child’s work illustrates that literary history is an embodiment of the ongoing processes that comprise American culture and society. The study and teaching of her work, then, can help us to inspire critical engagement with current social issues, thereby pointing to the importance of humanities disciplines.

“Child’s Legacy to the Twenty-First Century: The Law of Love Versus Religious Bigotry, Anti-Immigrant Hysteria, and Mass Incarceration”

Carolyn L. Karcher, Temple University Emerita

“Fostering the Future: Child’s Environmental Engagements in The Juvenile Miscellany and Beyond”

Karen L. Kilcup, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

“The Cost of the Gift: Gender and Labor in Lydia Maria Child’s Writings”

Hildegard Hoeller, The Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island, CUNY

“The Problems of Citizenship: Revisiting Letters from New-York through a Social Justice Lens”

Bruce Mills, Kalamazoo College

“Lydia Maria Child’s Abolition Democracy, and Ours”

Robert Fanuzzi, St. John’s University

“If We Are Brave Enough to Accept: Taking on the Challenges of Lydia Maria Child Today”

Dana D. Nelson, Vanderbilt University

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 “Theorizing Democratic Feelings, Disagreement, and the Temporal Child in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s The Linwoods

Marissa Carrere, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Written in the wake of the Nullification Crisis, Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s 1835 novel The Linwoods vividly stages the anxieties that condense around the desire to believe that democracy is guided by timeless certainties, and the knowledge that democratic processes necessarily entail the negotiation of contingent and ephemeral opinions. Such irresolvable tension is vital to democratic thought, this novel suggests, and to sustain it Sedgwick finds a productive vehicle in the figure of the child. That is, because nineteenth-century America bore equal cultural investment in thinking of children as malleable and subject to social influence, and as transcendent and sprung true, the child permits Sedgwick to dramatize the conflict between the self-evident truth and the radical revisability of the Constitution, and of the patriotic feelings of its citizens. As the novel investigates how to understand the nature of political commitments—both national and personal—Sedgwick at once uses the figural child to assert normative claims in response to her particular politico-historical moment and, we will see, to trouble the theoretical integrity of those very same claims. In limning Sedgwick’s move toward the realm of the theoretical, this article’s aims are twofold: to expand our understanding of how the child operates in the political literary imagination and to recognize Sedgwick’s contributions to the archives of democracy.

“Black Classical Ruins and American Memory in the Poetry of H. Cordelia Ray”

Heidi Morse, University of Michigan

Analyzing the relationship between African American poetry and neoclassical aesthetics, this essay introduces the work of the fin-de-siècle poet H. Cordelia Ray as part of a larger historical oeuvre of black classical adaptations. Unlike Phillis Wheatley, better known for her classical themes a century earlier, Ray had the luxury of addressing her verses directly to black audiences via periodicals such as The A. M. E. Church Review and The Woman’s Era, where they participated in community and national debates about black citizenship and uplift. In three ekphrastic meditations on the Venus de Milo (c. 100 BCE), Randolph Rogers’s Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii (1855), and Thomas Ball’s Freedmen’s Monument (1876), Ray figures classical and neoclassical sculptures as trans-temporal portals between past and present mythologies of artistic inspiration, death, and freedom. From her celebrated “Lincoln” ode to reflections on the moral decline of the nation, neoclassical tropes of excavation and ruin, refracted through African American experience, become protean metaphors for the promises and failures of American race relations. Imagining alternative pathways through African American literary history than those offered by studies of contemporaneous dialect poetry or pan-Africanism, this essay argues for the authenticity of Ray’s black classicism.

“‘The Queer Feeling We All Know’: Queer Objects and Orientations in Edith Wharton’s (Haunted) Houses”

Shannon Brennan, Carthage College

This article examines the construction of queer space in what Annette Benert has referred to as Edith Wharton’s “architectural imagination.” I argue that Wharton renders queerness an always-available mode of experience during a period that was increasingly invested in understanding sexual orientation to be a matter of identity. She does this, first, by showing how the nonhuman environment may redirect our sexual orientations, and second, by staging the queer feelings provoked by seemingly inanimate objects. I argue that Wharton’s design manual, The Decoration of Houses (1897), and her explicitly homoerotic ghost story, “The Eyes” (1910), emphasize the complicity of things in producing our most intimate alliances. Using queer and new materialist theories, this reading suggests that Wharton’s own queer phenomenology is rooted in an affective conception of design that not only understands our (sexual) orientations as functions of our material environment, but also scrambles the very ontological scale that orders the way that we conceive of (gendered, sexualized, raced, and animate) subjects.

“The Heart of Capitalism: Contested Visions of Labor Reform in Lurana Sheldon’s Department Store Novels”

Ashley Elizabeth Palmer, Indiana University Bloomington

In many turn-of-the-century novels featuring consumption, the setting of the department store constitutes a space of consumer desire. Indeed, canonical works such as Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie feature glamorized scenes of consumption experienced from the perspective of the shopper. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Lurana Sheldon depicts department stores from the perspective of the shopgirl, detailing physical and emotional hardships that characterize this form of labor. In doing so, she advocates the department store—where labor and consumption meet across the counter—as an ideal public space to promote labor reform, thus turning the nexus of consumerism into a locus of consumer reform. In two separate novels published in Street and Smith’s New York Weekly between 1900 and 1901, Sheldon mobilizes the capital of both merchant and consumer power to imagine possibilities for reforms that would liberate the abused shopgirls from capitalism’s exploitation. Utilizing tropes from Social Gospel, sentimental, and dime novels, as well as rhetoric from the Progressive movement, Sheldon explores strategies for reform even as she resists fully empowering her working characters. In spite of Sheldon’s top-down solutions, which ultimately leave the shopgirls themselves disempowered, her work reveals the capacity for imagination writers brought to labor reform, including depicting benevolent management, unionized workers, and conscious consumers. This essay posits that recovering Lurana Sheldon’s work can complicate scholarly conversations about literary representations of consumer culture as well as pose important questions about what motivates reform and how it can be best implemented.

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Legacy Features Forum

Susanna Rowson’s Sincerity and the Just Teach One Project

Guest Editors: Ed White, Tulane University and Duncan Flaherty, Queen’s College and the Graduate Center, CUNY


Desirée Henderson, University of Texas Arlington

This forum gathers together a number of voices around Susanna Rowson’s novel, Sincerity (1803-4). Sincerity was the eighth text to be selected for Faherty and White’s ground-breaking Just Teach One project and here we reproduce a selection of their complete edition of the novel, alongside five essays by scholars about their experiences teaching the JTO edition of Sincerity. These essays offer sustained and thought-provoking analyses of Sincerity, as well as practical suggestions regarding how to teach the novel in a variety of academic settings and course contexts. The forum is concluded by Faherty and White’s afterword in which they reflect on their goals for JTO, reasons for reprinting Rowson’s Sincerity, and insights regarding the novel’s significance. Legacy Features demonstrates our commitment to innovative recovery work by showcasing Just Teach One’s inspirational effort to make it possible for teachers and scholars to continue to expand the place of women’s writing within literary studies.

Legacy Reprint

Excerpts from Susanna Rowson’s Sincerity; A Novel in a Series of Original Letters Susanna Rowson, edited by Ed White and Duncan Faherty

“Female Relationships in Susanna Rowson’s Sincerity: The Bechdel Test and American Literature Syllabi”

Theresa Strouth Gaul, Texas Christian University

“‘Oh that I were a man!’: Susanna Rowson’s Lesson on Marital Entrapment”

Jennifer Desiderio, Canisius College

“Seriality and Sincerity

Karen A. Weyler, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

“Six Lessons from the Just Teach One Project on Recovering Susanna Rowson’s Sincerity

Lisa West, Drake University

“Scrupulous Sincerity: Rowson’s Sentimental and Gothic Turns”

Michelle Sizemore, University of Kentucky

“Canonical Predicaments”

Ed White and Duncan Faherty

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Review Essays

 “Legible Natives: Making Native Women Visible in the Literary Arts”

Penelope M. Kelsey, University of Colorado-Boulder

“Alternate Origin Stories and Unexpected Archives: The Question of the Indigenous Literary”

Susan Bernardin, SUNY Oneonta

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Book Reviews

 Gender and Race in Antebellum Popular Culture, by Sarah N. Roth

Elizabeth Luquete, Gettysburg College

Selected Writings of Eliza Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature, edited by Laura Laffrado

Donna M. Campbell, Washington State University


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