Forum: Where Are the Women in Black Print Culture Studies?
Where are the Women in Black Print Cultures? White Fallacies, Obscene Questions, and Righteous Hysteria
Joycelyn Moody, University of Texas-San Antonio
Discovering the Woman in the Text: Early African American Print, Gender Studies, and the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
Rian E. Bowie, Wake Forest College
Beyond Recovery: A Process Approach to Research on Women in Early African American Print Cultures
Barbara McCaskill, University of Georgia
Harriet Jacobs and the Lessons of Rogue Reading
Benjamin Fagan, Auburn University
Misinformation and Fluidity in Print Culture; or, Searching for Sojourner Truth and Others
John Ernest, University of Delaware
Accessing Early Black Print
Eric Gardner, Saginaw Valley State University
“Fascinate, Intoxicate, Transport”: Uncovering Women’s Erotic Dominance in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History”
Helen Hunt, Independent Scholar
Leonora Sansay’s Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingo recounts the interwoven horrors of revolutionary war in St. Domingo and domestic violence through the experiences of the central characters, sisters Mary and Clara. As these two women circulate among a diverse, international network of Creole women, they participate in empowering and impassioned—even erotic—relationships with these women and each other. While Secret History has been understood as presenting an alternative to patriarchal violence through a homosocial community of Creole women who create a quasi-feminist utopia, this article argues that Secret History represents a queer female sexuality that evades the interconnected structures of public and private heterosexual violence by depicting women’s same-sex desire forming alternative erotic bonds and narrative trajectories, even while refusing distinctions between heterosexual and homosocial pleasures. The novel’s incestuous sororal desire allows both Mary, the primary narrator, and Clara, her object of desire, to violate the heterosexual conventions of the romance plot which erases lesbian desire and either subsumes women into marriage or eliminates them. Instead, as the women look forward their return stateside by the end of the novel, Philadelphia takes on a new significance within the novel’s erotic imagination. Philadelphia becomes a place of correspondences between heterosexual appetites and homoerotic desires—the ideal place, in fact, to carry out newly acquired erotic practices based in the pleasures of dominance and submission. In this sense, Secret History expands the terrain of female sexuality beyond the romance plot and into queer pleasures within the early American literary imagination.
Anatomy Lessons: Emily Dickinson’s Brain Poems
Barbara Baumgartner, Washington University in St. Louis
This essay argues that Emily Dickinson’s use of the word “brain” in her poetry should be understood in relation to larger nineteenth-century developments in psychology, medicine, and the biological sciences. As a student at Mt. Holyoke, Dickinson studied anatomy and physiology. The material and vocabulary she encountered in the assigned textbook, the popular Calvin Cutter’s Anatomy and Physiology, may have inspired the surprising number of anatomical images and terms that Dickinson used in her verse. In addition, new ideas concerning anatomy and physiology that became popularized in the mid-nineteenth century exposed the poet to contemporary cultural debates about the brain, body, mind, and soul. While Dickinson employs a number of different body parts in her poetry, her lyrical focus on the brain is particularly unusual and startling. Occurring in more than twenty poems, the brain in Dickinson’s work often carries a kind of materiality that departs from conventional poetic practice. Dickinson’s “brain” poems explore an integrated relationship between body and mind, where the physical brain is the site of creativity in ways that collapses the mind/body distinction underlying philosophical assumptions about the self and creative production. By dissolving the mind/body distinction, Dickinson also unsettles the gendered assumptions that associate man with mind and woman with body.
Lucy Larcom and the Time of the Temporal Collapse
James Dobson, Dartmouth College
In this essay I examine the complex temporalities found in A New England Girlhood, the late-nineteenth-century autobiography of Lucy Larcom. In A New England Girlhood, we see Larcom negotiating her ambivalent relationship to nineteenth-century modernity and its accompanying narrative of a progressive temporality in which the present succeeds the past and unfolds into an increasingly better future. This ambivalence results in her text constructing both a “good” and a “bad” modernity. Against the bad or limiting elements of modernity, Larcom deploys nostalgic remembrances of her antebellum childhood. Yet her own psychic investments in progress and modernity have made it impossible for her to believe in the closed-world required by the nostalgic gaze. I argue that her divided relation to progress produces numerous scenes of temporal collapse, figures and representations of the past and present appearing side-by-side, and that the inclusion of these scenes results in the formal complexity and non-linear narrative of her autobiographical text.
Victoria Earle Matthews: Making Literature during the Woman’s Era
Kerstin Rudolph, University of Mississippi
Victoria Earle Matthews is best known for her work as a late nineteenth-century clubwoman and reform worker. This essay explores a side of her that is often overshadowed by her numerous accomplishments: her literary activism. First, it aims to contribute to the recovery of African American women writers by highlighting Matthews’s productivity as a fiction writer as well as analyzing her use of sentimentalism amidst the broader late nineteenth-century preference for realistic writing. The essay provides a fresh analysis of Matthews’s well-known story “Aunt Lindy” (1889) in conjunction with her acclaimed essay “The Value of Race Literature” (1895) in order to show black women writers’ contribution to the larger aesthetic debates surrounding the literary representation of minorities. Second, the essay argues that Matthews’s short stories are valuable expressions of the tensions within the educated black community, especially in terms of the color politics that riddled much of the black clubwomen’s movement and the fiction that this body of writers produced. Here, the essay analyzes two of Matthews’s lesser-known short stories, “Eugenie’s Mistake” (1892) and “Zelika” (1892), for their affirmative depiction of African American womanhood beyond the ideal of light skin. Both stories are self-reflective critiques of a harmful politics of color that advocate a clear turn away from whiteness as a cultural ideal and toward blackness as a preferable identity. Together, Matthews’s literary types offer a more inclusive discourse of what it meant to be an ideal African American woman at the turn-of- the-century.
“A Reading Problem”: Margaret Lynn, Jean Stafford, and Literary Criticism of the American West”
Cathryn Halverson, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
This essay couples readings of Margaret Lynn’s memoir, A Stepdaughter of the Prairie (1914), and Jean Stafford’s autobiographical novel The Mountain Lion (1947) in order to illustrate and intervene in critical habits about western women’s writing. I focus on Lynn’s girlhood “reading problem,” as she discovers that beloved authors like Lowell and Tennyson not only do not speak to her lived experience on the prairies of northwestern Missouri, but also serve to alienate her from it. She thereby dramatizes the same problem faced by contemporary readers of early-twentieth-century western literature (and presages her current critical invisibility), who struggle to identify fruitful textual connections among women encountered in isolation rather than as part of a broader regional, gendered literary tradition. I then turn to Stafford—who was actually Lynn’s first cousin once removed—and her Colorado novel, whose subject is likewise its young female protagonist’s “reading problem” in the West. In uncovering the deep family resemblance between these two authors and their work, the essay models one way to discuss western women relationally, independent of their responses to dominant masculinist mythologies. The more usual tendency is to focus on how western women respond to western men, reinscribing the latter as the inevitable critical reference point in the very scholarship that would dislodge them.
From the Archives
A New Digital Divide: Recovering Editing in the Age of Digitalization
Jean Lee Cole, Loyola University of Maryland
Victoria Earle Matthews’s Short Stories
Kerstin Rudolph, University of Mississippi
Eugenie’s Mistake: A Story
Victoria Earle [Matthews]
Victoria Earle [Matthews]
Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature by Kevin Pelletier and The Altar at Home: Sentimental Literature and Nineteenth-Century American Religion by Claudia Stokes
Marianne Noble, American University
Gender Protest and Same-Sex Desire in Antebellum American Literature by David Greven
Holly Jackson, University of Massachusetts Boston
The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America by Corinne T. Field
Sari Edelstein, University of Massachusetts Boston
Toward a Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism edited by Jana L. Argersinger and Phyllis Cole
Michelle Kohler, Tulane University
Emily Dickinson in Context edited by Eliza Richards and A Kiss from Thermopylae: Emily Dickinson and Law by James R. Guthrie
Mary Kuhn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Thinking Outside the Book by Augusta Rohrbach
Julia Dauer, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Between the Novel and the News: The Emergence of American Women’s Writing by Sari Edelstein
Maura D’Amore, Saint Michael’s College
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