Karen Dandurand, Founder and Foremother
The Racial Geopolitics of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Geography Textbooks”
Yael Ben-zvi, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
In this essay, Yael Ben-zvi builds on past scholarship that reads Uncle Tom’s Cabin and other novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe for their problematic coalescence of colonialist and anti-slavery ideologies, examining the author’s commitment to an abolitionist separatism that extends beyond her novels. Ben-zvi argues that Primary Geography for Children (1833) and First Geography for Children (1855) explicitly and elaborately counter African American claims for US citizenship. In these texts Stowe’s geopolitics are separatist ones, and her antiracism rests on the belief that a natural geographic order divides racial groups; non-whites are, for Stowe, incompatible with the health of the nation. Primary Geography, a pre-abolitionist text, counters traditionally anti-slavery antebellum geographic pedagogy through its reinforcement of racial and national hierarchies, indicating that race is the foundation of geopolitical order, and that slavery is a relatively benign institution. More than twenty years later, the abolitionist First Geography explicitly frames slavery as antithetical to national growth, simultaneously positioning African Americans as impediments to the civic development of the United States. Stowe achieves this through a promotion of geopolitical embodiment, or the instruction of implied white Christian child readers to identify with and contribute to an expanding white Christian nation that requires the removal of African Americans from the United States. Ultimately, for Stowe, racism is an evil that must be eliminated; however, the world in which this reform takes place must be one of racially distinct nations.
New Girls and Bandit Brides: Female Narcissism and Lesbian Desire in Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes
David Greven, Connecticut College
Greven reads Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 for its simultaneous critique of constrictive gender roles and its implications of same-sex desire within an all-female environment. This play between anti-heteronormative identities of gender and sexuality produces the narrative’s conflict. Contradicting scholarship that claims lesbian identity is a product of the late nineteenth century, Greven argues that Fuller’s articulation of near-explicit lesbian desire in Summer on the Lakes is perhaps the most unambiguous in antebellum American fiction. Female narcissism is a safeguard against the loss of identity that accompanies the namelessness of same-sex desire. The self-investment Mariana demonstrates fundamentally disturbs other characters in the text, managing to trouble identity categories and institutional structures. Desire for the self, Fuller demonstrates, can also be homoerotic. As well, one person’s narcissistic desire can produce desire in others, regardless of their sex. This relay, a familiar one in classical psychoanalytic accounts of homosexuality, is generative: Mariana’s self-love and violations of normative gendered behavior lead to sexual possibility. In its reflexivity, her narcissism rejects the inclusion or recognition of gendered hierarchies. Fuller creates a space in which femininity does not rely on masculinity in order to understand itself. The coded expression of the erotic through reoccurring tropes and images, including scents, flowers, and private places, indicates Fuller’s investment in a rhetorical project that engages with sexuality through the constrictive standards of nineteenth century American writing.
Lydia Sigourney’s Sailors and the Limits of Sentiment
Bryan Sinche, University of Hartford
In his essay, Bryan Sinche calls for a reconsideration of Lydia Sigourney’s position in the canon of nineteenth-century American sentimental literature, arguing that her writing increasingly moves away from affective unions, and toward a reevaluation of her own economic and literary investments. Her four collections of poetry for sailors, published between 1845 and 1857, indicate her refusal to ignore human labor and human suffering that produced the conditions under which comfortable domesticity was possible. In her engagement with challenges faced by antebellum sailors, including low wages, long separations from home, and social segregation, Sigourney acknowledges that the promises of salvation are insufficient counters to the trials they endure on earth. These books are intended for sailors themselves, and in both her prefaces and in the poems themselves, the author demonstrates her understanding not only of the hardships sailors face, but also the difficult economic and social issues produced by America’s colonialist expansion. In effect, her poems are a remapping, an effort to bring the hearth to the forecastle, to link home and the sailor. Rather than advocate homogenization, Sigourney’s writing traces the constraints of the affective bonds she so often invokes; her poetry suggests that she understood the limits of sentimentalism as a uniting tool.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Colonial Revival
J. Samaine Lockwood, George Mason University
Thus far, scholars examining Gilman’s most famous work, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” have read the story primarily as autonomous feminist critique, or as a campaign against rigid structures regarding female sexuality, health and labor. J. Samaine Lockwood challenges these approaches, reading “The Yellow Wall-Paper” within a context that includes the drama “In the Name of the King!” and the short story “The Giant Wistaria.” These other works, written in the same decade as “Wall-Paper,” constitute a kind of colonial revival for Gilman, who critiques nineteenth-century American culture for its reluctance to admit white women into its system of white male privilege. Contemporary America traps Anglo-American women in a colonial condition; Gilman implies through her writing that, for these women, colonial New England is interchangeable with 1890s America. The renewed interest during the late nineteenth century in colonial history may have appealed to Gilman as a framework for her politics, Lockwood argues, as this interest was a socially acceptable discourse into which she could enter. These three works indicate Gilman’s attention to establishing a pure genealogy: an attempt to contend for the rights of women by laying claim to a substantial, respected, and privileged historical legacy. However, through her representation of New England as shorthand for the nation, and of white Americans as Americans, Gilman ultimately contributes to a hierarchical discourse that values racial segregation.
From the Archives
From Periodical to Book in Her Early Career: E. D. E. N. Southworth’s Letters to Abraham Hart
Melissa J. Homestead, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The correspondence between E. D. E. N. Southworth and her book publisher Abraham Hart between the years 1851 and 1853 is essential to our understanding of Southworth as a literary producer. These letters, as Melissa Homestead reveals, revise settled assumptions about Southworth. They show her to be not a hasty writer, but a substantive reviser, a micromanager, and a competent negotiator. Read against other evidence, Southworth’s letters to Hart provide a complex picture of her creative process. Although scholarship characterizes the author as uninvolved in the technical aspects of publishing, her letters to her publisher indicate her considerable knowledge about these intricate details, and her desire to increase her books’ marketability. These author-publisher exchanges show an author who raises her own qualms about public perceptions of her fiction’s morality, rather than one who responds solely to external reservations. In these letters, Southworth also demonstrates specific concerns about the marketing of her books; she does not rely entirely on her publisher’s opinions. Ultimately, Homestead’s interpretation of the Southworth and Hart letters raises larger questions about scholarship and method: Should scholars, Homestead asks, make explicit the gaps that result from incomplete records? Her essay argues for an acknowledgement of the spaces in between, allowing adequate and necessary room for the narrative revision of archives.
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (1818-1907)
Sari Edelstein, University of Massachusetts Boston
The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom: Sense and Sensibility in the Age of the American Revolution edited by Susan E. Klepp and Karin Wulf
Caroline Wigginton, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927 by Nina Baym
Victoria Lamont, University of Waterloo
Something Akin to Freedom: The Choice of Bondage in Narratives by African American Women by Stephanie Li
Rynetta Davis, University of Kentucky
Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women by Barbara Sicherman
Elizabeth Long, Rice University
Becoming Visible: Women’s Presence in Late Nineteenth-Century America edited by Janet Floyd, Alison Easton, R. J. Ellis, and Lindsey Traub
Carolyn Sorisio, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Nellie Arnott’s Writings on Angola, 1905-1913: Missionary Narratives Linking Africa and America by Sarah Robbins and Ann Ellis Pullen
Barbara Reeves-Ellington, Siena College
Emma Wolf’s Short Stories in The Smart Set edited by Barbara Cantalupo
Edward S. Cutler, Brigham Young University
Last Updated: 03/29/2013 19:20 PDT