Legacy Volume 32, No. 1 (2015)

Essays

Sparing Fame: Anne Bradstreet’s Elegiac Consolations

Julia Penn Delacroix, Southwestern University

Anne Bradstreet’s elegy for Philip Sidney famously concludes with the poet surrendering her pen to a pack of angry muses who, incensed that she has composed her elegy imperfectly, chase her from Mount Parnassus. This essay looks to that poem, as well as her elegy for Guillaume Du Bartas, to suggest that the poetic failure Bradstreet so dramatically describes in fact serves as a culmination of her sustained critique of the patterns of competition, substitution, and replacement that facilitate consolation in the pastoral elegy. Drawing a distinction between “personal mourning” for an individual loss and “existential mourning” for one’s own eventual death, we find that Bradstreet’s early elegies draw readers’ attention to an economy of poetic consolation that encourages its practitioners to trade on the deaths of those they claim to mourn. This essay traces the way that Bradstreet’s elegy for Sidney refuses such an exchange, and the ways her elegy for Du Bartas restructures the conventions of the genre to create a poem that avoids such a trade. Resisting and remaking the ways the elegy leads readers and poets to resolve their grief, these poems question the methodology of, and underlying motive for, such resolution.

The Poetics of Unoriginality: The Case of Lucretia Davidson

Claudia Stokes, Trinity University

Literary conventionality and unoriginality have long been presumed to be markers of lesser literary quality. Scholars of women’s literature have argued that this assumption enabled the denigration of nineteenth-century American women writers, many of whose works markedly adhered to literary convention and evaded innovation. Following the work of such critics as Eliza Richards and Virginia Jackson in unearthing the contemporary literary contexts that framed female literary conventionality, this essay argues that the writings of Lucretia Davidson, an enormously popular poet, provides an important case for our understandings of the social uses of literary unoriginality. Specifically, Davidson’s work suggests that literary conventionality played an important role in domestic life, specifically in the socialization of girls and young women. A private domestic poet, Davidson wrote poetry as a child and adolescent, using literary conventionality specifically to rehearse the womanly responsibilities she would be expected to assume in adulthood. By replicating such genres as the maternal prayer and the infant elegy and by reiterating standard literary tropes, Davidson used poetry to envision and temporarily assume the authority of the sage matron, using poetry to practice the roles of childrearing and moral stewardship. Against the grain of twentieth-century associations of literary conventionality with conformity and servile self-suppression, Davidson’s poems suggest that, for nineteenth-century girls and women, literary convention instead enabled the acquisition of authority, both social and moral, and permitted them to insert themselves within an august poetic tradition.

The Kitchen Economics of Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs

Thomas Strychacz, Mills College

This essay challenges two very common “counterworld” hypotheses about Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs: first, the claim that female-centered labor subverts male-dominated capitalist relations, and second, the accusation that Jewett seeks a place of refuge from the competing voices and contested class and economic interests of the 1890s. Instead, this essay argues that the work is rooted in traditions of political economic thought. The Green Island chapters, for example, draw upon a long history of imaginary island commonwealths (such as More’s Utopia) in order to make the narrator’s labors significant in abstract economic terms. The figure of “economic woman” in Jewett is a complex one. It allows for a critique of “homo economicus,” the self-interested, rational agent of classical economic thought. But Jewett’s “economic woman” is enmeshed in still other economic discourses of the late nineteenth century: the narrator’s potato digging, for example, invokes contemporary debates about gold, silver, and fiat (paper) money. Emerging from this exploration of Jewett’s work is a broader concept of “kitchen economics”: a narrative mode in which kitchen (or domestic) work, organized through the principles of political economic thought, leads to questions of how a healthy polity might organize a productive distribution of resources and wealth—crucial questions for the twenty-first century as much as for the nineteenth.

Black Labor and the Sentimentalized Southern Economy in Katherine Tillman’s Clancy Street

Andreá N. Williams, The Ohio State University

This essay examines Katherine Tillman’s serialized novella Clancy Street (1898-99), published in the Afro-Protestant press, to consider how literary genre structures the representation of work. In depicting the socioeconomic conditions of the southern black working class, Tillman sentimentally characterizes African American servants and nurses as performing the affective labor of reconciling white employers and the black workforce in the New South. This cross-racial harmony is epitomized by a black servant’s self-sacrifice for her white mistress at the end of Clancy Street. But such sentimental accounts repeatedly are disrupted by uneasy textual moments in the narrative as notable silences and abrupt transitions assert a more realist account of the rigorous, dangerous, and unfair conditions black manual and domestic workers face. These narrative disjunctures reiterate a central paradox of sentimentalism: while it aims to provoke identification across differences, it remains a limited form for envisioning radical change to deeply racialized labor inequities.

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From the Archives

“So completely has my vogue passed away”: Houghton Mifflin’s In-house Evaluations of Mary Hallock Foote’s Autobiography

Nicolas S. Witschi, Western Michigan University

In the mid-1920s, Mary Hallock Foote drafted a memoir titled “Backgrounds with Figures” that was never published in her lifetime (though the Huntington Library eventually published an edited version in 1972). Biographers and critics alike have attributed its non-publication either to reticence or inaction on Foote’s part—either she was unwilling to publish the stories of people known intimately to her, or she never followed up on her editor’s initial encouragement to her first half-draft by sending a complete manuscript. The archives, however, tell a different story. This essay discusses the heretofore uncatalogued and unpublished in-house materials from Houghton Mifflin that pertain to “Backgrounds with Figures,” particularly their importance to understanding Foote’s late-career place fully in a changing marketplace. Consisting of several letters exchanged between Foote and her editor in 1923 and a collection of thus far entirely unknown readers’ reports filed by Houghton Mifflin in 1926, the archive demonstrates the fate of Foote’s autobiographical manuscript which she had sent in full to be largely the result of a shift in taste on the publisher’s end. In short, the sources uncovered here reveal that Foote’s memoir was rejected not because of incomplete or missing material but, rather, because the press no longer saw itself as a publisher of her style of literature. This shift in priorities, moreover, had broad implications for the publication of both women’s autobiographies and books about the American West.

Correspondence with Houghton Mifflin Co.

Mary Hallock Foote

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Review Essay

Literary Recovery in an Age of Austerity: A Review of Just Teach One and Early American Reprints 

Michelle Burnham, Santa Clara University

Book Reviews

American Blood: The Ends of the Family in American Literature, 1850-1900 by Holly Jackson

Carol J. Singley, Rutgers University-Camden

Sentimental Readers: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of a Disparaged Rhetoric by Faye Halpern

Gillian Silverman, University of Colorado Denver

Playing House in the American West: Western Women’s Life Narratives, 1839-1987 by Cathyrn Halverson

Daniel Worden, University of New Mexico

Treacherous Texts: US Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946 edited by Mary Chapman and Angela Mills

Leslie Petty, Rhodes College

The Middle Class in the Great Depression: Popular Women’s Novels of the 1930s by Jennifer Haytock

Catherine Keyser, University of South Carolina