Special Issue: Selected Papers from the 2006 Conference of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers
Introduction: Writing in the Real World
Karen L. Kilcup, University of South Carolina, Greensboro.
The essays collected in this special issue of Legacy address a number of recurrent concerns among the approximately 350 author- or theme-based presentations: performance, identity, genre, the meaning of home, issues of mentoring, and the concept of “legacies” – the relationship between generations of women writers. Most broadly, however, in one way or another all of the essays here tackle the inevitable imbrication of public and private domains. The remarks that follow invert the conventional structuring of introductory essays. Both on stage and in staged photographs, Sarah Winnemucca was adept at re-presenting herself to white authences as the “Indian Princess”; in her performances, Pauline Johnson appeared first in “buckskin” and then in European evening wear; in the West, Ora Eddleman Reed offered “Types of Indian Girls” to readers of Twin Territories, a magazine published in Indian Territory in the late nineteenth century, repudiating stereotypes of Cherokees as savage but also “playing Indian” herself. In elaborating the historical context, Ruth Spack’s essay exposes for public view some of the backstage elements of Zitkala-Sa’s selfcreation.
Zitkala-Ša, The Song of Hiawatha, and the Carlisle Indian School Band: A Captivity Tale
Ruth Spack, Bentley College
This essay examines Zitkala-Ša’s performance of “The Famine” scene from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s narrative poem, The Song of Hiawatha, while traveling as violin soloist with the Carlisle Indian School Band on their northeast tour in 1900. Drawing on archival documents, including the correspondence of Richard Henry Pratt, the Carlisle school superintendent who invited Zitkala-Ša to accompany the band, Spack argues that the story of the Hiawatha performance is a captivity tale waiting to be told. She explores Pratt’s reasons for “capturing” Zitkala-Ša in the context of Zitkala-Ša’s experience in Boston from 1899-1900, her controversial publications in the Atlantic Monthly, the “Hiawatha Revival” of 1900, and Longfellow’s theme of the vanishing Indian. Finally, Spack analyzes Zitkala-Ša’s performance itself in light of her subsequent writing and political activism.
A Late Night Vindication: Annis Boudinot Stockton’s Reading of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Woman
Caroline Wigginton, University of Texas at Austin
In 1793, Annis Boudinot Stockton, an elite New Jersey widow and patriot, wrote a letter musing upon the contents of Mary Wollstonecraft’s newly published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Addressed to her daughter, Stockton’s epistle both praises and critiques Wollstonecraft, ultimately finding her call for women’s education to be commonsense. In analyzing the language and context of this letter alongside the late eighteenth-century publication history of Rights of Woman in America, this essay proposes a new term, epistolary neighborhood. In writing within an epistolary neighborhood, a semi-public community that is simultaneously intimate and unbounded, Stockton is able to disseminate political and social commentary while avoiding an entrance into the public sphere. The term arises from Stockton’s own language and more fully describes the ways that some early American women could navigate the public and private spheres.
Reading Published Letter Collections as Literary Texts: Maria Chabot–Georgia O’Keeffe Correspondence, 1941-1949 as a Case Study
Linda M Grasso, City University of New York
This essay argues that published letter collections, as well as the letters within them, should be considered literary texts that comprise a discrete literary form. Using the published volume of Chabot-O’Keeffe correspondence as an example, Grasso explores the ways in which editors assume authorship roles, why letter writing and assembling published letter collections are creative acts that engender literary effects, and how letter writers’ perceptions of self, correspondent, and their relationship affect the content of the letters they write and preserve. Finally, Grasso contends that published letter collections require reading strategies that incorporate fictional, life-writing, and historicist methodologies. She demonstrates how these strategies can be put into practice by closely reading the drama of yearning in the Chabot-O’Keeffe correspondence.
Writing at the Crossroads: Sophia Hawthorne’s Civil War Letters to Annie Fields
Julie E. Hall, Sam Houston State University
This essay examines Sophia Hawthorne’s manipulations and configurations of gender in her war time correspondence with intimate friend, Annie Fields. Stressing the “transformational and transgressive opportunities” inherent in the historical moment–a civil war that de-stabilized social categories and identities–Hall argues that in these letters, Hawthorne entered into the cultural warfare of her times. Sometimes gendering herself male, at other times writing herself in male roles, and at still others, conducting open warfare with male authority, Hawthorne simultaneously conceives and creates, within the liberating space of the correspondence, alternate written selves and a world of extended influence and possibility for women. In the process, this woman who has been typically figured, in scholarship, as the quintessential Victorian female, gives powerful expression to her own subversive tendencies and what she terms, in these unpublished letters, her “domestic revolutions.”
Forwarding Literary Interests: James Redpath and the Authorial Careers of Marion Harland, Louisa May Alcott, and Sherwood Bonner
Susan S. Williams, Ohio State University
This essay examines James Redpath’s mentoring relationship with three authors: Marion Harland (Mary Virginia Terhune), Louisa May Alcott, and Sherwood Bonner (Katharine Bonner McDowell). These relationships, which occurred at the beginning of each author’s career, are significant for two reasons. First, they were mutually reciprocal, with Redpath gaining professional and/or personal benefits from his support of these women even as they gained increasing literary recognition. Second, they shed light on the complex sectional politics of the second half of the nineteenth century. Redpath, a radical abolitionist turned editor and speakers’ bureau manager, moved toward promoting national reconciliation during this time, while these authors retained regional loyalty to their native states (Virginia, Massachusetts, and Mississippi respectively). They marked this loyalty in part by incorporating Redpath as a character in their writings: characterizations that simultaneously testify to his importance to their careers and establish him as a marker of the youthful naiveté that they have now moved beyond.
A Forgotten Daughter of Bohemia: Gertrude Christian Fosdick’s Out of Bohemia and the Artists’ Novel of the 1890s
Donna Campbell, Washington State University
During the 1890s, a number of British and American authors such as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, George Moore, and Robert W. Chambers wrote novels set in the studios of artists and art students, a space that came to be known as Bohemia. The most famous of these was Georges Du Maurier’s Trilby, which in 1894-95 caused a sensation with its story of a villainous mesmerist, Svengali, who hypnotized an artists’ model, Trilby, into brilliant performances as a singer. Such novels frequently expressed anxieties about the possibilities of the new freedoms for women. Among these novels was Gertrude Christian Fosdick’s Out of Bohemia. Fosdick proposes a different set of issues, namely how discourses of nationalism and a kind of imperial American innocence disrupt the power dynamic of male gaze and female subject. Out of Bohemia focuses on possibilities for women living in the free spaces of Bohemia, the cultural differences that such women must negotiate, and the ways their nationality as well as their sexuality is mediated through and inscribed by the male gaze; the policing of female sexuality in the unregulated transnational spaces of the modern city; the questions of female subjectivity raised by the new presence of women in the art studios, a presence that disrupted the traditional dyad of male artist/female subject by calling into question the nature and focus of the gaze and its mediation of power; and above all the uneasy coexistence of cosmopolitanism and nationalism evoked by the presence of Americans in Bohemian Paris. To reinforce the link between Beryl’s actions as a woman artist and national identity, Out of Bohemia not only employs the rhetoric of nationalism but also invites comparison with two other novels about independent young women making their way in Europe: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860) and Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1881).
The Motherless Child in Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood
Jill A Bergman, University of Montana
Motherlessness was a common trope in nineteenth-century texts–from domestic novels to slave narratives–that sought to move their audiences. A powerful image for African Americans with slavery’s legacy of violent separation both from the motherland of Africa and, often, from the biological mother, motherlessness also found expression in sorrow songs which bemoaned the mother’s loss–“sometimes I feel like a motherless child” — and longed for her the comfort of her restoration–“Oh, mother . . . rock me in the cradle all day.” In Hopkins’s Of One Blood, motherlessness serves as a metaphor both for personal despair or emptiness and–more broadly–for the post-reconstruction African American community’s national alienation. Protagonist Reuel Briggs suffers from a condition of personal motherlessness because his mother is dead. But he also suffers from a self-imposed national motherlessness in that, by passing for white, he denies his mother, a former slave and the source of his African heritage. Drawing on Freud’s Oedipal model, this essay reads the protagonist’s reclaiming of African heritage and recognition of Ethiopia’s “glorious past” as a journey from national alienation imposed by a racist United States to pre-Oedipal wholeness and national entitlement through the restoration of the national mother.
Delinquent Housekeeping: Transforming the Regulations of Keeping House
Christine Wilson, Michigan State University
Initially, Sarah Orne Jewett’s Deephaven and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping seem to embrace the relationship between women, domesticity, and homemaking. Women dominate the texts, and the everyday mundane life of “keeping house” accounts for most of the action. This linkage proves problematic for the characters within these novels, however. To make their spaces habitable, the characters must re-envision domesticity and its relationship to gender. Read together, these two novels produce an ungrounded domesticity that undermines the link between gender and home space. Jewett connects flexible spatial practices with fluid gender roles and lays the groundwork to redefine domesticity. Robinson uses a similar idea to sabotage the very definition and regulations of the domestic. These novels converge around the representation of spatial metamorphoses. More specifically, they both use the trope of the ship to rewrite, revise, and re-envision domesticity, and in so doing, gender roles. Read together, they suggest that habitability does not depend upon a specific kind of space or location but rather a particular kind of relationship between the subject and space.
Is Women’s Poetry Passé? A Call for Conversation
Anna Leahy, Chapman University
In a recent issue of Poetry, three women writers assert, “we all concur that we ought to abolish the unpleasant term ‘women’s poetry’.” As pleasant as it sounds to eliminate wording that reinforces stereotypes, erasing the term risks obfuscating recent history, erasing the artistic work that the category delineates, and silencing questions about canonization. “Is Women’s PoetryPassé?” calls for conversation among poets and scholars who study them. Together, we can explore, as this essay does, the current and historical contexts for the woman poet’s career; the definitions, limitations, and possibilities of women’s poetry as a category; and the intersections of the personal and political in the poetry itself. To suggest ridding our critical vocabulary of the termwomen’s poetry is to resist the notion that poet is the norm and woman poet is lesser and to acknowledge that the literary tradition is problematic for contemporary writers. Yet, as I look around–at the presidential campaign, the academy in which I teach, the anthology I read with my students, and the literary journals–I acknowledge that this category makes visible my female predecessors and contemporaries in the literary tradition.
Traveling Women: Narrative Visions of Early America by Susan Clair Imparrato and Traveling Economies: American Women’s Travel Writing by Jennifer Bernhardt Steadman
Robin Miskolcze, Loyola Marymount University
Steadman’s book extends Imbarrato’s time frame, focusing on the period from 1820 to 1860, years when women’s production of published travel writing increased in conjunction with their growing dominance in the publishing industry as best-selling authors. Steadman’s notion of “ragged edge travelers” and the economies of travel within which their stories are situated complicates contemporary literary history’s framing of middle-class travel writing, proving it to be a diverse field governed not just by colonial eyes, but also by reformers-black, white, single, married, poor-whose writings reveal the heavy strain of labor and exploration found within women’s literary history.
Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Life, Volume 1, 1809-1847 by Patricia Dunlavy Valenti, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall, and Reinventing the Peabody Sisters edited by Monka M. Elbert, Julie E. Hall, and Katharine Rother
Lucinda Damon-Bach, Salem State College
In her typical, thorough style, Marshall adds to her citation of Elizabeth’s 1823 letter an explanation of the British origins of both club and name, referring to two recent studies of nineteenth-century American literary salons and reading circles by Susan Branson and Mary Kelley. Being an Account of the Flowers by Themselves, her Christianity in the Kitchen, and her novel Juanita; Sophia’s “Cuba Journal,” her joint journal with Nathaniel, her Civil War letters, and her Notes in England and Italy, Elizabeth’s Record of a School, “A Vision,” “Primeval Man,” and Lectures in the Training Schools for Kindergartners; and the sisters’ extensive correspondence and various collaborative projects. Reinventing the Peabody Sisters will be useful to those studying nineteenthcentury American women writers in particular and American literature more generally; the range of approaches and sources consulted suggests rich possibilities for future work.
Women and Authorship in Revolutionary America by Angela Vietto
Lisa M. Logan, University of Central Florida
In addition to providing excellent analyses of a variety of early American women’s texts in one volume, Vietto includes astute discussions of Republican models of masculinity and femininity in an American context that recognizes the influence of British publishing at the time, the history of the public/private debate in feminist and American studies, and particular generic conventions and rhetorical strategies.
“Good Observers of Nature”: American Women and the Scientific Study of the Natural World, 1820-1885 by Tina Gianquitto
Daniel J. Philippon, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Given the diversity of ways American women interacted with science and the natural world in the nineteenth century, Gianquitto does not offer a single, unifying explanation for their actions but rather explores several key questions she believes these writers addressed, including what should constitute an “accurate” perception of nature, what roles reason and emotion should play in that perception, and how that perception should be represented both linguistically and systematically.
Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture edited by Denise Kohn, Sarah Meer, and Emily B. Todd
Molly Hiro, University of Portland
Donald Ross finds evidence in Stowe’s narrative of her experiences traveling in Europe, Sunny Memories of a Foreign Land, that her attitudes toward the antislavery cause evolved during her travel, whereas Shirley Foster discovers in the same text a subject engaged in “strategies of overt self-creation in which her own stereotypicality was coexistent with comic subversion of that position” (152).
Harriet Wilson’s New England: Race, Writing and Region edited by JerriAnne Boggis, Eve Allegra Raimon, and Barbara A. White
Xiomara Santamarina, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Published twenty-four years after Henry Louis Gates “recovered” Our Nig for authences eager for African American texts, it contains a mix of approaches to the autobiographical novel-literary-scholarly, historical, regional, and personal-designed to appeal to a crossover authence of scholars and lay readers. […] the recovery of biographical information is not a broad enough basis on which to engage with these texts, especially autobiographical ones; insofar as they may inadvertently promote transparent representations of an author’s historical and sociological realities, these efforts can obscure the creative ways that black authors in a hostile print environment navigated explosive rhetorical issues.
Daughter of the Revolution: The Major Nonfiction Works of Pauline E. Hopkins by Ira Dworkin
Janet Gabler-Hover, Georgia State University
Ira Dworkin has given us a useful compilation of the prolific prose of late nineteenth-century black literary artist and political activist Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, most often recognized as the author of Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South and for her publications within and relationships with the Colored American Magazine. Dworkin’s volume allows readers insight into the rich history of African American culture, since Hopkins’s words and references reveal the vital social fabric and extensive network of African American intellectuals, philanthropists, and other notables who have been erased from, or were never made present in, American cultural memory.
Memorial Boxes and Guarded Interiors: Edith Wharton and Material Culture edited by Gary Totten
Melanie Dawson, College of William and Mary
On the subject of the “bachelor girl,” Linda S. Watts addresses the spaces available to never-married women, arguing that “the material and spatial terms that characterize and constrain women’s lives” explore Wharton’s ideas about “individual rights” and with them “possessive individualism” (188-89). The collection’s final section on technology is, perhaps, the most difficult to consolidate under the material culture theme; that being said, Gary Totten’s essay on mechanization and luxury in The Fruit of the Tree is one of the most interesting essays to appear on the novel.
Romancing the Vote: Feminist Activism in American Fiction, 1870-1920 by Leslie Petty
Mary Chapman, University of British Columbia
Petty asserts that Harbert likens her activists to those of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who promote change through womanly influence within a domestic sphere; Blake, on the other hand, compares her urban female characters to slaves who need immediate enfranchisement in order to be liberated from the sensationally violent, criminal, and abusive conditions in which they live.
America the Middlebrow: Women’s Novels, Progressivism, and Middlebrow Authorship between the Wars by Jaime Harker
Lisa Botshon, University of Maine at Augusta
In her discussion of Canfield Fisher’s substantial oeuvre, for example, Harker shows how this popular author negotiated the marketplace with a variety of strategies, including placing her work in women’s magazines, which paid extremely well and introduced her writing to “a reading community uniquely suited to Canfield’s aesthetic and progressive commitments” (34). Demonstrating how Canfield Fisher, Fauset, Buck, and Herbst believed “[t]hat every novel can and should advocate for a more desirable political and social reality” (123), Harker breaks critical ground by bringing these very worthy authors back into the spotlight, expanding the still emergent project of middlebrow studies, and contesting the very idea of the modern.
Front-Page Girls: Women Journalists in American Culture and Fiction, 1880-1930 by Jean Marie Lutes
Abbey Zink, Western Connecticut State University
Lutes uses the highly sensational 1907 murder trial of Harry Kendall Thaw to show the striking contrasts between the portrayal of the sob sisters, as the handful of women journalists covering the trial came to be known, and the much larger contingent of male reporters.
Leslie M. Hammer, University of California, San Diego