The Word Made Exhibition: Protestant Reading Meets Catholic Worship in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Gates Ajar
Ashley C. Barnes, Williams College
Arguing for the influence of theology on the form of the novel, Barnes analyzes the style of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Gates Ajar as a response to contemporaneous Christian debates about how and whether reading can offer access to God. This archival lens shows how Harriet Beecher Stowe and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps adopt Catholic practice to renegotiate the relationship between surface and depth codified in Protestant exhortations to read the Bible deeply. Their rehabilitation of surface in prose fiction creates what Barnes calls the exhibitional style. The exhibitional style assumes that the body and its accouterments are constitutive of subjectivity and that emotion and judgment are social phenomena. These assumptions shape the novels’ descriptive and narrative strategies and invite readers to appreciate rather than penetrate their fictional surfaces, much as Tom and Eva’s Bible reading by Lake Pontchartrain does not plumb the text’s depths but refashions its imagery into a shared spectacle. Whereas Stowe defers the realization of depth to heaven, Phelps tries to imagine that realization and discovers that it is inconceivable without bodies and things. Identifying the exhibitional style enables us to see continuities between the sentimental and the relish for surface play in some modernist fiction; it makes visible the theological stakes for the performances and merchandise these novels inspired; and, above all, it lets us see how the production of a reading attentive to textual surfaces–the kind many critics have lately called for–was a goal very much in Stowe’s and Phelps’s sights as novelists.
An Expenditure Saved Is an Expenditure Earned: Fanny Fern’s Humoring of the Capitalist Ethos
Julie Wilhelm, Lamar University
While Fanny Fern’s popular novel Ruth Hall is often appreciated for its sentimentality, Wilhelm asserts the centrality of humor within the narrative. The novel’s representatives of industrial capitalism are comically parsimonious, mechanical characters who are stingy with not only money, but also words and psychic expenditures in their quest for more power. Responding to the pressure to save, the novel’s sense of humor offers a form of economy that reflects and resists some of the practices and values of industrial capitalism. Drawing on Freud’s The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious, this essay examines how various forms of humor invoked in Ruth Hall–such as the pun, the stereotype, and the tendentious joke–create a savings in their technique whose goal is nonproductive pleasure. While the plot ultimately allows the heroine to achieve success through the industrial capitalist system, valuing acquisition and conservation of capital, the novel’s sense of humor gives us access to a political unconscious that resists those values by facilitating useless expenditure. Thus, the novel unconsciously “laughs off” the capitalist ethos that its resolution espouses with Ruth’s acquisition of bank stock.
The Antiquary and Literary Criticism in the Short Stories of Constance Fenimore Woolson
Christina Healey, Merrimack College
In this essay, Healey opens with a reading of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Mentone, Cairo and Corfu, which helps illustrate her argument about how Woolson commented on the role of women artists in male-dominated spaces. Healey argues that Woolson frequently made connections between antiquarianism and women’s art in her pre-1890 short stories. She looks at three short stories in particular: “St. Clair Flats,” “The Ancient City,” and “Miss Grief.” In stories such as these, Woolson critiques male antiquarians who misinterpret artifacts that would give women visibility and a voice, devaluing women’s contributions and stunting the growth of women artists. Woolson thus critiques men who gloss over the art of other women as well as her own artistic productions. Healey’s readings illuminate how Woolson pointed to the flaws inherent in setting up binaries wherein women were defined as separate from the sphere of high culture–wherein they could be objects but not artists and imitators but not creators. Woolson’s female artists are caught in a placeless status as they seek independent existences outside of marriage but are not accepted as artists. Ultimately, they struggle between having a sense of rootedness and being wanderers, much like Woolson herself was a traveler. By pointing out the limited vision of male antiquarians and the overlooked artistry of her female protagonists, Woolson plays with the limits of women’s agency as artists and critiques a patriarchal literary world that is dismissive of women’s works.
Edna St. Vincent Millay and the Poetess Tradition
Elissa Zellinger, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
While many of her female contemporaries were busy trying to escape nineteenth-century conventions of the genre, Edna St. Vincent Millay evoked them in her early poetry. However, Millay’s conservative forms communicate rather than confine a modernist affect and intuition. In fact, she taps into a poetic tradition that has always expressed emotional insight through conservative poetic conventions–that is, the poetess tradition. Antebellum poetesses were expected to offer access to their supposed private selves if they were going to have a public poetic presence. This expectation continues to burden poets such as Millay; antebellum understandings of the poetess and her transparent soul supplied the preconditions for the twentieth-century female poet. Millay mobilizes the poetess, specifically the model presented by Frances Sargent Osgood, in order to confront the impossible and self-diminishing practice of professing privacy. Millay demonstrates how the poetess tradition shifted in a twentieth-century literary climate; she deployed the poetess’s conservative form and ostensible open spirit to illustrate the emptiness of privacy in a genre that staked itself on the public presentation of the private.
Introduction: Finding Edith Eaton
Mary Chapman, University of British Columbia
In this piece on archival research, Chapman describes the challenges and rewards of recovering works by authors such as Edith Eaton/Sui Sin Far. She begins by discussing how she found and then lost the story “The Alaska Widow,” which is signed “Edith Eaton,” through a search onGoogle Books. The differences between this story and Eaton’s other works made Chapman wonder how many undiscovered Eaton stories exist. Chapman and other scholars have unearthed nearly two hundred of Eaton’s works that are not included in her best-known text, Mrs. Spring Fragranceand Other Writings, and these works cover various topics in various styles across periodicals in Canada, the United States, and Jamaica from 1888 to 1914. In her essay, Chapman overviews Eaton’s publication history and how archivists such as herself work with both electronic and print resources to trace and uncover works that have been lost. Finally, she notes how such works end up challenging our assumptions about these authors’ styles, politics, and experiences.
The Success of a Mistake
Sui Sin Far [Edith Maude Eaton]
The Queer Newspaperwoman in Edith Eaton’s “The Success of a Mistake”
Jean M. Lutes, Villanova University
In this essay, Lutes analyzes the queer subtext of a newly rediscovered short story by Edith Eaton/Sui Sin Far. “The Success of a Mistake,” originally published in 1908, features a white Seattle newspaperwoman who mixes up her facts while reporting on a Chinese betrothal and unexpectedly finds herself in the role of matchmaker. The narrative trajectory–which celebrates the happy heterosexual union of a Chinese couple–is made possible by the reporter-heroine’s collusion with a female missionary friend. In the two white women’s banter about their Chinese subjects, Eaton embeds a sexually transgressive subtext in the story’s most imperialist moments. Even as the white women act as culturally superior moral arbiters and infantilize their Chinese friends, they dramatize the ways that sexual desire unsettles the boundaries upon which their presumption to superiority relies. To track that unsettling, Lutes analyzes displacements of desire and same-sex intimacies in the text while arguing more broadly for the significance of emotionality in the alternative tradition of women’s reporting.
Emily Clemens Pearson (1818-1900)
Catherine E. Saunders, George Mason University
Emily Clemens Pearson wrote four antislavery novels, the first, Jamie Parker (1851), published before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the second, Cousin Franck’s Household (1851-1852), serialized concurrently with Stowe’s novel. In writing these and two later abolitionist works, Plantation Pictures (serialized in the Liberator in 1863-1864) and The Poor White; or, the Rebel Conscript(1864), Pearson drew on her experiences living and working as a governess on the Tayloe family’s Mount Airy plantation near Warsaw, Virginia in 1841-1842, ten years after the Nat Turner rebellion. Recurring themes in her abolitionist novels include the ever-present possibility of slave insurrection, slaves’ right to escape, and their capacity to build independent lives in freedom. Prior to producing her antislavery works, Pearson wrote for periodicals of the Millerite/Adventist movement under variations on her birth name, Emily Catherine Clemons. After emancipation, she wrote two temperance novels, a biography of Gutenberg, an anti-Catholic novel, Madonna Hall, the Story of Our Country’s Peril (1890), and a number of hymns, poems, and other materials for the periodical press.
Reprint: Old Delia. A Southern Reminiscence
Emily C. Pearson
Uncle Tom’s Cabin for our Time
Susan Belasco, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times by Ilyon Woo and Domestic Broils: Shakers, Antebellum Marriage, and the Narratives of Mary and Joseph Dyer edited by Elizabeth A. De Wolfe
Janet Sarbanes, California Institute of the Arts
Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff edited by Lu Ann Faylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder
Martha Bradley, University of Utah
The House of My Sojourn: Rhetoric, Women, and the Question of Authority by Jane S. Sutton
Faye Halpern, University of Calgary