Legacy Volume 26, No. 1 (2009) 26.1


Marriage, Coverture, and the Companionate Ideal in The Coquette and Dorval

Karen A. Weyler, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

This essay focuses on Hannah Foster’s The Coquette (1797) and Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood’s Dorval(1801), novels suggestive of how the topos of coverture is explored in early fiction with regard to bourgeois women. While The Coquette is now familiar to several generations of scholars, it is instructive to use the text as a basis for understanding how and why Sally Wood treated some of the same issues so differently just four years later. Capitalizing in their novels on the growing popularity of the affectionate marriage, both Foster and Wood expose the fissures that coverture created between legal praxis and increasingly cherished cultural ideals. And yet, despite their shared condemnation of coverture, Dorval is in some ways the more politically and legally progressive of the two novels, inspired no doubt by Wood’s family background, which provided her with extensive exposure to legal issues, as well as a personal history as a vulnerable widow. Not content with merely exposing how coverture undermines the affectionate marriage, Wood models alternatives to women’s economic dependence through her use of marriage settlements, which in Dorval reduce economic incentives for marriage, enhance the economic stability of families, and enable individuals to seek truly companionate marriages.

“When it ceases to be silly, it becomes actually wrong”: The Cultural Contexts of Female Homoerotic Desire in Rose Terry Cooke’s “My Visitation”

Kristin M Comment, Independent scholar

Rose Terry Cooke’s 1858 story “My Visitation” fictionalizes a tension between “girlish friendship” and female same-sex desire that appears in conduct books of the mid-nineteenth century by Eliza W. R. Farrar, Catharine Beecher, and Dinah Maria Craik. While these books all acknowledge the prevalence of intimate female attachments among women, they work in various ways to diminish the significance of those intimacies and reveal anxieties about how female homoeroticism might threaten heteronormative behavior. In doing so, they add an important countercurrent to idealized portraits of female intimacy depicting young women’s passionate friendships as sexually innocent and compatible with heterosexual marriage. To focus only on the absence of a precise term for lesbianism in the medical and legal discourse of this era is to ignore a palpable anxiety about female homoeroticism in antebellum America, the politics of sexual repression, and a foreshadowing of the clinical pathologization of lesbianism later in the nineteenth century.

Woolson’s Anthropology of Desire

Neill Matheson, University of Texas at Arlington

This essay addresses Constance Fenimore Woolson’s local color fiction, particularly her story “Felipa,” by exploring the relationship between representations of other cultures and ideas about nonnormative sexuality. Building on recent critical arguments about the parallels between late nineteenth-century regionalist writing and emergent cultural anthropology, this essay contends that Woolson’s interest in cultural difference enables her to imagine alternative social arrangements and sexual identities. The essay juxtaposes her fiction with nineteenth-century anthropological theories of animism, fetishism, and idol worship, particularly the theories discussed in British anthropologist Edward Tylor’s landmark study Primitive Culture, arguing that Woolson constructs outsider characters as representatives of “primitive culture.” In “Felipa,” she projects a kind of magical thinking about sexuality onto the story’s foundling protagonist, whose heterodox beliefs blur distinctions between masculine and feminine, white and non-white, self and other. Woolson imagines a cultural viewpoint characterized by indifference or indiscrimination–blindness to the very differences that are understood to constitute racial and sexual identity. Embodying such beliefs in an imaginary cultural other–a fantasy of primitive culture–Woolson dramatizes alternatives to mainstream American ideologies of gender and sexuality, apart not only from normative heterosexuality but also emergent frameworks for homosexuality, such as sexual inversion.

The Milwaukee School of Fleshly Poetry: Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s Poems of Passion and Popular Aestheticism

Angela Sorby, Marquette University

Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s Poems of Passion threatened to spark a scandal when it was published in 1883; one New York newspaper even decried the emergence of a “Milwaukee School of Fleshly Poetry.” However, the scandal never materialized, and Poems of Passion was embraced by thousands of perfectly respectable midwestern readers. Why? The pop-aesthetic verses in Poems of Passion eroticize rampant consumerism, producing a speaking subject who is preoccupied with self-display even as she dreams of devouring others. As she sold aestheticism to the masses, Wilcox also promoted herself as a new kind of female celebrity: she used sex to sell, but she did not sell sex. This cultural work is echoed in her private letters, as she seduces (and confuses) her future husband–who initially assumes she is a courtesan–by displaying both worldliness and chastity. Ultimately, Wilcox did not rebel against middle-class values; rather, she helped change them by imagining, through her writings, forms of public sexuality that connoted not prostitution (“professional womanhood” in the old sense) but rather professional success in the literary marketplace.

Framing the Body: Imperialism and Visual Discourse in María Cristina Mena’s Short Fiction

Margaret A. Toth, Tufts University

This essay examines the short fiction of the relatively understudied Mexican American writer María Cristina Mena. In 1913, Century Magazine commissioned Mena to write a series of stories that would introduce its primarily upper-class, Anglo-American readership to life in Mexico. Mena wrote eight stories for Century and published several others in popular periodicals and magazines. Early critics of Mena dismissed these stories, claiming that they exoticize and essentialize Mexico and Mexican people. By contrast, I align myself with recent scholars who are reevaluating Mena’s work in a tradition of resistance. Mena’s stories, I suggest, comment on the imperialist dynamics at work in early twentieth-century US-Mexico relations. More specifically, I argue that Mena writes back in her fiction to imperialist visual practices that frame Mexican people as “other.” Problematic visual texts that adopted and recirculated such practices were published alongside Mena’s own work in Century. However, I also show that while Mena’s stories challenge imperialist discourse that deems Mexicans “other”–i.e. discourse that emphasizes difference–they are equally concerned with a threat of sameness. Mena’s short fiction exposes and critiques an imperialist machinery–visual, political, social, economic–that would wipe out difference, leaving behind a homogenous, markedly United States, culture and people.

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Legacy Reprint

Less Work for “Mother”: Ruraln Readers, Farm Papers, and the Makeover of “The Revolt of ‘Mother'”

Ellen Gruber Garvey, New Jersey City University

Mary Wilkins Freeman’s “The Revolt of ‘Mother,'” first published in 1890, was widely read, performed, and recited for decades. It inspired discussion about farmwomen’s lives, about gender issues in control of farm finances, and about the role of the home in keeping the family united. It also inspired other stories about farmwomen’s control of finances and improving the lives of their families–stories of which have long vanished in magazines addressed to rural women. Nina Sutherland Purdy’s “Mothering: The Story of a Revolt,” reprinted here, was one such story. Leaving regionalism behind, it offered the possibility of ruralism without region and promoted a way of life consonant with the aims of a commercial magazine for rural women in 1916. In this essay, I discuss the reasons for the makeover that Freeman’s story underwent and consider how Purdy’s version aligned itself with a reading of Freeman’s story that ignored its defiant, feminist potential, and instead read its principal concern as keeping the family together.

Mothering: The Story of a Revolt

Nina Sutherland Purdy

This is a reprint of the short story from 1919, which resembles the 1890 short story “The Revolt of ‘Mother'” by Mary Wilkins Freeman.

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Legacy Profile

Ann Eliza Webb Young (1844-after 1908)

Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Ann Eliza Webb Young, the onetime plural wife of Brigham Young, published two autobiographies,Wife No. 19 (1875) and Life in Mormon Bondage (1908), and enjoyed a successful career on the lecture circuit. Young merits recovery for the following reasons: First, she contributed to her era’s important cultural pursuits, such as the lecture platform. Second, her decision to cast her life story in the familiar form of the captivity narrative further expands the definition of that genre and also gives readers insight into Mormon culture. Finally, her three marriages and divorces foreground the contradictions of marriage, chastity, and womanhood during the intense nineteenth-century debates on “the woman question.” The Profile includes excerpts from Wife No. 19 and from Life in Mormon Bondage.

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Book Reviews

Feminist Interventions in Early American Studies by Mary C. Carruth

Lorrayne Carroll, University of Southern Maine

Carroll reviews Carruth’s edited volume of seventeen articles on feminist perspectives on the field of early American studies. Essays involve masculinities, identity, racial formations, agency, and embodiment. As Carroll notes, “Each essay explicitly or implicitly critiques patriarchal structures–unsurprisingly, several contributors consider the public/private continuum–and evince a complex understanding of the processes that shape the institutions wielding it” (161).

Prodigal Daughters: Susanna Rowson’s Early American Women by Marion Rust 

Karen A. Weyler, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Weyler reviews Rust’s book on the status of women in the early Republic, specifically women “who violated social customs by seeking public voices, respectable work, and alternatives to a hierarchical marriage” (162). The study is contextualized with discussions of such Rowson contemporaries as Mary Wollstonecraft and Judith Sargent Murray. The book also discusses Rowson’s views as portrayed in her works, including books, plays, songs, orations, schoolbooks, and correspondence.

Women & Children First: Nineteenth-Century Sea Narratives & American Identity by Robin Miskolcze 

Patrick Gleason, University of California, San Diego

Gleason reviews Miskolcze’s exhaustive study of maritime texts, in which she recovers numerous works regarding the nation and particularly involving women and maritime disasters. Miskolcze argues that these texts were malleable for people across gender, class, and national lines. Gleason’s primary critique is that the recovered works are not theorized enough, providing space for other scholars to pick up where Miskolcze leaves off.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Casebook edited by Elizabeth Ammons and The Cambridge Introduction to Harriet Beecher Stowe by Sarah Robbins 

Desiree Henderson, University of Texas, Arlington

Henderson reviews these two volumes on Stowe. The Casebook is a collection of primary and secondary sources on UTC, but Henderson notes that the choice of which items to include and exclude is unclear and troubling. Robbins’s book focuses on Stowe’s life and works, not solely focusing on UTC. Robbins’s text advances new insights and inquiries, though (like many works on Stowe) still taking the middle ground.

Changing Rapture: Emily Dickinson’s Poetic Development by Aliki Barnstone 

Jane Donahue Eberwein, Oakland University

Barnstone denies the view that Dickinson showed no development by exploring three stages of Dickinson’s writing: her struggle with Calvinism, Emerson’s influence on her writing, and finally a poetic style that did not rely on a binary between prose and poetry.

Love and Marriage in Early African America edited by Frances Smith Foster 

Linda M. Grasso, York College and The Graduate Center, CUNY

Grasso reviews Foster’s edited volume of African American authored documents from the beginnings of African American print culture up to just before the Harlem Renaissance. The selections include folklore, poetry, short stories, newspaper articles, letters, and autobiographical accounts regarding love, marriage, and family.

 Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West by Eric Gardner 

Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sherrard-Johnson reviews Garner’s edited volume of Carter’s contributions to the San FranciscoElevator. Carter wrote on such topics as education, immigraion policies, and labor.

Affecting Fictions: Mind, Body, and Emotion in American Literary Realism by Jane F. Thrailkill 

Cynthia J. Davis, University of South Carolina

Davis reviews Thrailkill’s volume on reader subjectivities and the creation and reception of art. The authors she studies include Oliver Wendell Holmes, S. Weir Mitchell, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mark Twain, Henry James, Stephen Crane, Harold Frederic, and Kate Chopin.

America’s Gothic Fiction: The Legacy of Magnalia Christi Americana by Dorothy Z. Baker 

Gail K. Smith, Birmingham-Southern College

Smith reviews Baker’s volume on “the resonances of the Puritan providence tale in the works of Poe, Stowe, Hawthorne, Sedgwick, and Wharton.” Baker argues that these authors “rework and subvert Mather’s early eighteenth-century tales in various ways” (177).

Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts by Emily J. Orlando and The Architecural Imagination of Edith Wharton: Gender, Class, and Power by Annette Nenert

Maura D’Amore, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

D’Amore reviews these works on Edith Wharton’s life and works. Both texts situate Wharton’s work in “cultural, political, and historical milieus” (179). Both demonstrate Wharton’s interest in visual and tactical arts, using her biography to illuminate characters and plot elements from Wharton’s books and short stories, including The Decoration of HousesA Backward GlanceThe House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country.

Portraits of the New Negro Woman: Visual and Literary Culture in the Harlem Renaissance by Cherene Sherrard-Johnson

Martha Jane Nadell, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Nadell reviews Johnson’s book on the Harlem Renaissance, opening with a reading of a painting by artist Archibald Motley. Nadell compares Motley’s work to that of Nella Larsen, then comparing Jean Toomer’s Cane to William H. Johnson’s painting, and then comparing Faith Ringgold’s French Collection to Toni Morrison’s Jazz.

Holy Prayers in a Horse’s Ear: A Japanese American Memoir by Kathleen Tamagawa 

Linda Trinh Moser, Missouri State University

Moser reviews this 2008 reprint of the memoir of a Japanese American woman, parts of which were published in Asia magazine in 1930 while the entire work was later published in 1932. The work, edited by Greg Robinson and Elena Tajima Creef, sheds light on pre-WWII attitudes toward Asians.

The True Story of Alice B. Toklas: A Study of Three Autobiographies by Anna Linzie

Lee Rumbarger, Vassar College

Rumbarger reviews Linzie’s book on three of Toklas’s autobiographies: The AutobiographyThe Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, and What Is Remembered. Linzie sheds light on the genre of autobiography and also explores the relationship between Toklas and Gertrude Stein, who wrote Toklas’s Autobiography.

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