Birthing a Nation: Gender, Creativity, and the West in American Literature by Susan J. Rosowski (review)
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implicit assent to life's unfairness," an unfairness that political reform tries to abolish (89). Acocella's study is a must-read forany serious scholarofCather's works. In artful prose, she demonstrates how Cather's writings have been distorted by both the Left and Right. While guiding the reader through the trends and fashions ofcriticism , Acocella gives us a renewed sense of the tragic vision central to Cather's works, while highlighting the folly ofviewing her works through a political lens; but whichever lens, Willa Cather's enduring art deserves our ongoing attention. Susan J. Rosowski. Birthinga Nation: Gender, Creativity, andthe West in American Literature. Lincoln: University ofNebraska Press, 2000. 242p. Laura Hamblin Utah Valley State College Susan J. Rosowski, the Adele Hall Distinguished Professor ofEnglish at the UniversityofNebraska and editorof CatherStudies, here argues against FrederickJackson Turner's prototypical and masculine frontier thesis that narratives of the American West address the experience ofEuropeans, moved to the edge ofcivilization , confronting wilderness and dangerous natives. The conflict, essential in the prototype, is one between civilization and nature and relies on character traits ofrugged individualism and national notions ofManifest Destiny. According to Rosowski, traditional Western narratives utilize birthing metaphors; however, the narratives typically usurp the birthing process from female creativity, resulting in the hero conquering the land. The hero, through domination, transforms the land into the New America, and is transformed into the New Adam. Hallmarks of the Western include a hostility toward language, violence (especially towards indigenous peoples, women, and nature), and divisive premises ofdiscourse (subject/ object, hunter/prey, male/female, etc.). Rosowski challenges Turner's American myth by looking at the writing offour female authors: Margaret Fuller (chapter 1), Willa Cather (chapters 2-4), Jean Stafford (chapters 5-7), and Marilynne Robinson (chapter 9). Rosowski suggests that each of these female authors ultimately "probes the frontier plot of opposition and, exposing the violence at its heart, discards the plot" (197), replacing the traditional masculine narrative with one ofrelationship, community and conversation — qualities which reinforce a more healthy social reciprocity rooted in language. Rosowski's writing is well researched (with over 29 pages of notes and works cited) and would be valuable in SPRING 2001 -r ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * 123 interdisciplinary courses ofstudy including literature, history, cultural and American studies, gender studies, and genre studies. The introduction establishes the tradition which Rosowski is revisiting, tying the tradition to America's Judeo-Christian and ancient Greek heritage and expounding on the tradition as reinforced through John Knapp, Henry David Thoreau and the transcendentalists, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Owen Wister, and Zane Gray. Chapter 1 looks at Margaret Fuller's writing, specifically Summer, which Rosowski sees as inviting women to participate in the conversation ofthe West, weaving together a community ofvoices. Fuller takes the American principle ofindependence, and genders it in her encouragement ofwomen to be independent from men. In many respects, Fuller sets the standard for the female response to the West on which the other writers expound. Chapter 2, "The Long Foreground to Cather'sWest," is fascinating, utilizing New Historical criticism in its study ofpersonal letters written among Cather's extended family (with the aid ofa genealogical chart to keep the individuals straight) to establish the milieu out ofwhich Cather grew and wrote. Chapters 3 and 4 review a number of Cather stories, most heavily MyAntonia and O Pioneers.1as these texts deal with women who defy convention and follow the passion of their true natures. Cather's language celebrates domestic work, claiming wilderness and nature for her female characters. Through Cather, the birth ofthe nation is not the result ofseparation, rather it affirms analogies and continuities. Chapters 5 through 7 address Jean Stafford's writing. These chapters rely heavily on plot summary, as do (to a lesser degree) some of the chapters on Cather. Rosowski sees Stafford's stories as challenging "the destiny of anatomy [which] prescribes women to the narcissistic, masochistic, and passive roles of semtimentalism" (1 1 1), thus redefining the boundaries for the female Biufungsroman. Stafford's stories expose the violence inherent in the Western myth and the hostility to women and language. For Stafford, conception, generation, and creativity are made possible through language . Chapter 8, "The Western...


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