In Mary V. Dearborn's Pocahontas's Daughters: Gender and Ethnicity in American Culture the figure of Pocahontas serves as a thematic paradigm for a study of the relations between American female ethnicity and the novel. At first glance, Dearborn's wide-ranging subject matter (even the notion of ethnicity seems all too encompassing) and eclectic critical methodology (an interdisciplinary approach integrating contextual literary criticism, textual criticism, and literary biography among others) threaten to splay out in all directions. Happily, this is not the case. Although the justification of methodology is a bit meager and the style occasionally smacks of "dissertationese" (in the overly defensive posture, for example), the central issues are closely argued, and the study as a whole is extremely well-organized and well-researched.
A set of questions posed in the introduction effectively captures the heart of the project: "Do women understand or represent ethnicity in a gender-specific way? Is it possible or profitable to consider gender and ethnicity as marginalizing factors in American life? . . . What can they tell us about American culture?" The attempt to locate an ethnic female literary tradition leads to the identification of a number of themes that become the organizing principles for the individual chapters: authenticity and authorship, the authorial strategies of midwiving and mediation, acculturation, miscegenation, and, finally, the relationship between ethnicity and modernism. Defining the ethnic as "other," Dearborn draws useful connections between the ethnic hero and heroine, but, more importantly, delineates just where the latter diverts to form an independent course (an emphasis on familial concerns, for instance). A wide range of texts complements the broad scope of the project, but special consideration is given to such diverse writers as Mourning Dove, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Frances Harper, Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska, Toni Morrison, and Gertrude Stein. Unfortunately, Dearborn's agenda does not permit extended readings of individual texts (except Stein's The Making of Americans). Yet Dearborn's assertion that all American literature is, in a sense, ethnic literature and her insistence on the centrality of gender and ethnicity in both American cultural and literary studies remind scholars that there are abundant [End Page 627] trajectories to explore.
According to René Wellek and Austin Warren, regionalist writing "amounts to no more than the expression of pious hopes, local pride, and resentment of centralizing powers." Regionalism and the Female Imagination: A Collection of Essays, with its special focus on the contributions of regional women writers, fails to bring us any further from this earlier estimation; in fact, it is difficult to find any value in most of the essays contained in this volume. One major problem is that the anthology gets off to a bad start with a weak and scanty introduction; neither the topic nor the methodology is adequately justified. The reader is left in the dark about the rationale behind the selection of essays and their order of presentation (which is, at best, unimaginative). The editor also neglects to provide definitions or redefinitions of important concepts such as local color and regionalism. If one aim of the project is to reclaim the significance of regionalist writing, especially by women, observations on the problematic move toward the redefinition of relevant terms should not be situated almost half-way through the text.
The anthology is a compilation of articles printed earlier in the now defunct journal of the same name. The various essays take off in such a number of unrelated directions that coherency is threatened. Some of the essays follow the early methodology of feminist literary criticism now characterized as...