Winners of the 2009 SSAWW Conference Best Paper Contest
Imagining State and Federal Law in Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces
Laura Korobkin, Boston University
In the opening section of Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces, set in North Carolina in the 1790s, a white mob empowered by state anti-insurrection laws kills wealthy plantation owner Charles Montfort, whips his wife, transforms his wife and sons into slave property, and then distributes his slaves and property to members of the mob. At the novel’s end, Montfort’s descendants receive substantial damages in a federal lawsuit against the US government. Korobkin argues that the state and federal law that Hopkins depicts in her novel is largely her knowing and imaginative invention, one that exaggerates the historically powerful link between antebellum mob violence and state law, adds a forfeiture provision, and erases state-level legal process. Hopkins then proposes a utopian vision of federal law in which the national government accepts moral and legal responsibility for the wrongs of slavery and returns in uncontaminated form what the state slave regime polluted and took away. Korobkin also explores Hopkins’s historically accurate representation of white-on-white violence in the context of insurrection panics, arguing that Hopkins recognizes that a slave regime permeated by racialized violence claims whites as well as blacks among its victims. While the African American community is her primary concern, Hopkins’s inclusive vision compensates the biracial Montfort descendants for what their ancestors suffered as representatives of both white and black Americans. Finally, Korobkin reads the novel as an early and significant call for financial reparations to the heirs of American slaves.
Graduate Student Category
Sarah Orne Jewett’s “The Foreigner” and the Transamerican Routes of New England Regionalism
Patrick Gleason, University of California, San Diego
The role of Sarah Orne Jewett’s trip to Jamaica and Haiti in relation to her writing of the short story “The Foreigner” is the focus of Gleason’s analysis. He argues that during her many travels to Europe and the Caribbean between 1898 and 1900, Jewett wrote a series of letters in which she gives her most consistent and developed thoughts on American imperialism, both in terms of the nation’s importance to the world and to New England’s importance to the nation. Reading Jewett’s regionalist fiction in the context of her private travel letters and exploring how this new context could help resituate Jewett as a hemispheric, rather than a geographically restricted, writer allows for Jewett’s writings to be reconsidered through the lens of regionalism. This trope represents her attempt to negotiate the tensions between regional, homogeneous communities and the complex networks of transatlantic, racialized labor at the turn of the century. In particular, Jewett’s deliberate ambiguity in describing the racial and national background of the story’s title character marks that figure as unstable, unable to be fully synthesized into the regionalist reshaping of local and national communities. Much like the ghost who haunts the narrative, the “foreigner” in Jewett’s story haunts the imagined space of the pure and homogeneous communal history suggested in Country of the Pointed Firs. In trying to situate Dunnet Landing in the context of the global, Jewett instead highlights both the regional barriers to the promises of assimilation and her nostalgic vision of a benevolent American empire at the turn of the twentieth century.
Advertising the Domestic: Anne Bradstreet’s Sentimental Poetics
Abram Van Engen, Trinity University
In this article, Van Engen argues that Anne Bradstreet’s later poetry from the seventeenth century anticipated and contributed to the development of American sentimentalism, putting into circulation several themes and practices that would later help define sentimental literature and its cultural significance. With the publication of Several Poems in 1678, Bradstreet raised putatively private experiences to the level of public consciousness and, in the process, re-imagined the public community through a domestic, maternal lens. Moreover, to engage in such cultural politics, Bradstreet strategically employed publicly sanctioned private roles–speaking from a domestic position to “advertise” the mother’s role in a way that cut against the patriarchal advice William Perkins and other Puritan ministers offered in their manuals on marriage and family. Bradstreet’s poetic moves emerge most clearly, Van Engen contends, if scholars study her poetry’s rhetorical similarity to sentimentalism. In discovering the sentimental–or proto-sentimental–in Bradstreet’s work, therefore, “Advertising the Domestic” illuminates the political engagement of Bradstreet’s later lyrics while simultaneously expanding the literary history of sentimental culture.
A Medical Examination of Charlotte Temple: Critiquing the Female Healing Community in Rowson’s America
Maureen Tuthill, Westminster College
Tuthill expands on the traditional reading of Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple as a tale of seduction by drawing attention to the novel’s cohort of early American women who fail to heal a young British immigrant when she falls ill. Impregnated by a British soldier and abandoned on the outskirts of pre-Revolution New York, Charlotte endures severe communal isolation that negatively affects her health and makes inevitable her eventual death from puerperal fever. The medical issues prevalent in this text bring to light the fatal restraint with which its female characters treat an unwed mother who has neither filial ties nor legal claim to charitable assistance in America. This material feminist reading of the novel correlates Charlotte’s corporeal and biological reality with the ethical positions taken by the culture that allows her to die. Tracing the course of Charlotte’s illness also reveals her to be a determined young woman–quite different from the vulnerable female consistent with conventional interpretations of the novel. She attempts to heal herself and reaches out to other female characters for assistance but is repeatedly rebuffed or ignored. The issue at stake in the novel, therefore, is not Charlotte’s virtue but the virtue of the same early American community that once treated Rowson and her family as outsiders just prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Through her painstaking portrayal of Charlotte’s illness, Rowson critiques the qualified communal benevolence that she herself experienced as a young British girl in 1770s America.
“I am the hero of a fairy tale”: The US-Mexico War and American Manhood in E. D. E. N. Southworth’s The Hidden Hand
Megan Jenison Griffin, Texas Christian University
In this essay, Griffin reads E. D. E. N. Southworth’s The Hidden Hand, and in particular the character Traverse Rocke, as a sentimental response to the events and ideas of her time that is critical of both the US-Mexico War and aggressive masculinity. As a man guided by benevolence and sentiment, Traverse marks a hoped-for new generation of men, and, together with Cap, he offers a more complete understanding of how Southworth (re)assesses gender. In using the US-Mexico War as an opportunity to reflect on questions about masculinity, Southworth joins a cohort of women writers from the period–including Margaret Fuller, Grace Greenwood, and Jane Cazneau–suggesting that her portrait of Traverse was part of a larger intervention women writers made into the cultural discourse about war and antebellum masculinity. That Traverse’s identity crisis directly coincides with the occurrence of the US-Mexico War in The Hidden Hand is significant; however, while Traverse, as his name suggests, must negotiate a treacherous journey and face a series of trials, he does not change as a result of his war experiences. Rather, he retains his sentimental virtues and optimistically answers one of the crucial questions about American men at mid-century: Can they redeem themselves, or will the war and westward expansion ultimately corrupt them? By reading Traverse differently–as central to the novel rather than as a merely ancillary character–we find an avenue to rethink some of our critical assumptions about antebellum masculinity, sentimental discourse, and the marketplace.
Introduction to “The Son of Chung Wo” by Sui Sin Far [Edith Maude Eaton]
June Howard, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
“The Son of Chung Wo” Leslie’s Weekly, 16 June 1910 by Sui Sin Far [Edith Maude Eaton]
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Biography by Cynthia J. Davis
Denise D. Knight, State University of New York, Cortland
Dr. Mary Walker: An American Radical, 1832-1919 by Sharon M. Harris
Jane F. Thrailkill, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Race, Gender, and Comparative Black Modernism: Suzanne Lacascade, Marita Bonner, Suzanne Césaire, Dorothy West by Jennifer M. Wilks
Alicia A. Kent, University of Michigan-Flint
Improper Modernism: Djuna Barnes’s Bewildering Corpus by Danielle Caselli
Victoria L. Smith, Texas State University
Owning Up: Privacy, Property, and Belonging in U.S. Women’s Life Writing, 1840-1890 by Katherine Adams
Elizabeth Stockton, Southwestern University
Sex Expression and American Women Writers, 1860-1940 by Dale M. Bauer
Holly Jackson, Skidmore College
Fictions of Female Education in the Nineteenth Century by Jaime Osterman Alves
Amy Cummins, University of Texas Pan American
Selected Writings of Victoria Woodruff: Suffrage, Free Love, and Eugenics edited by Cari M. Carpenter
Amanda Frisken, State University of New York
Rebecca Harding Davis’s Stories of the Civil War Era: Selected Writings from the Borderlands edited by Sharon M. Harris and Robin L. Cadwallader
Nancy Strow Sheley, California State University, Long Beach
Women Writers of the Provincetown Players: A Collection of Short Works edited by Judith E. Barlow
Brenda Murphy, University of Connecticut
Last Updated: 03/29/2013 19:20 PDT