Ruiz de Burton was a Californiana with deep roots in the landowning elite deprived of their lands in the middle of the nineteenth century after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. As several contributors to this collection demonstrate, her personal experiences of diminished social and ethnic prestige, which her class had enjoyed during the periods of Spanish colonialism and Mexican rule, inform her three published texts. Her two novels, Who Would Have Thought It? (1872) and The Squatter and the Don (1885), and one play entitled Don Quixote de la Mancha: A Comedy in Five Acts (1876), are considered some of the foundational texts of Mexican-American literature and afford a complex view of the schisms created by the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny.
This anthology provides a deep and thorough analysis of Ruiz de Burton's work from a series of multidisciplinary approaches that emphasize cross-connections among languages, genres, themes, canons, literary periods, and traditions. The contributors address issues ranging from the formation of the border to political activism, from morality to health, and from the creation of a national allegory to the significance of the captivity narrative, and relate the author to Anglo-American, Chicano/a, and Latin American literary figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The theme running through the essays in the first three sections is the subordination of gender issues to those of class and race in Ruiz de Burton's novels. In these sections it is clear that the book would have benefited if the contributors had read one another's essays, a practice that would have eliminated repetition in the retelling of plots and, more importantly, some of the redundancy in the conclusions. The comparison of the California hacienda community with Southern plantation society, the parallels between the author's life and her work, the relationship between the Mexican War and the Civil War, and the claims to whiteness by Californios of Spanish descent and their racism against Indians are just some of the points that surface in many of the essays. Only Montes, who as an editor has read them all, attempts a dialogue with her co-contributors in her own essay, rather than a mere restating of similar ideas.
Montes's essay is the only one in the volume that undertakes a serious study of Ruiz de Burton's play. It provides a thorough literary analysis and historical contextualization, as well as a fascinating sketch of the San Francisco theatrical scene. Her reinterpretation of the figure of Don Quixote as a displaced California hacendado is original and provocative. Unfortunately, the lack of scholarship in the field of nineteenth-century Hispanic drama leads Montes at times into unsubstantiated speculation. Gretchen Murphy's essay also stands out for its wealth of information on the Monroe Doctrine and its use of Ruiz de Burton's work to develop a broader argument against the concept of American studies as a hemispheric project, emphasizing transatlantic culture instead. [End Page 434]
The editors intended this book for "scholars working…in American studies and . . . student readers—college and secondary school level" (p. 6). Although the pedagogical materials, particularly the vast primary and secondary bibliography, the chronology, and Ruiz de Burton's correspondence, will appeal to many teachers, it is doubtful that any but the most dedicated graduate students and scholars will be able to profit from the convoluted, opaque language that plagues several of the essays, such as those by John González and Julie Ruiz. The book is, however, a good resource for higher education faculty teaching courses in American and Chicano/a literature, ethnic studies, gender studies, and cultural studies. The final section, "Strategies for the Classroom," offers valuable suggestions, questions for students, related readings, and specific passages and page numbers of special interest in Ruiz de Burton's works. This section would also have benefited from more rigorous editing to eliminate repetition and irrelevant classroom anecdotes.