- Transatlantic Women: Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and Great Britain ed. by Beth L. Lueck, Brigitte Bailey, and Lucinda L. Damon-Bach
On the cover of Transatlantic Women: Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and Great Britain, two women in traveling dresses gaze thoughtfully into the distance as they sit aboard deck. One of the women [End Page 411] lounges uncorseted with a pair of binoculars in her lap as the wind sweeps the hair from her face. Captured by the camera's eye, this private moment aboard the public space of the ship reflects the new intellectual and physical freedom that the transatlantic world offered to women writers in the nineteenth century. The image aptly represents Transatlantic Women, an excellent collection of essays that explores the intellectual, cultural, and geographical exchanges that shaped—and were shaped by—American women writers as they traversed the transatlantic world aboard ships and trains and in print and letters.
Transatlantic Women, edited by Beth L. Lueck, Brigitte Bailey, and Lucinda L. Damon-Bach, makes significant contributions to the interdisciplinary fields of nineteenth-century women writers and transatlantic studies, especially in its examination of the tensions and fluidity that define national boundaries. As Bailey explains in the introduction, the collection "represent[s] both the national and the transatlantic as continually in play in the writings of American women" (xxiv). Part 1 of the book, "Tourism, Celebrity, and Reform," focuses on women writers in transatlantic travel, while part 2, "Authorship, Influence, and Reception," looks at women writers in transatlantic print culture. The collection includes essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Fuller, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Frances Osgood, Fanny Fern, Harriet Jacobs, Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Orne Jewett, Susan Warner, and Ellen Craft, along with the Boston Rest Tour Association, a group of women writers who encouraged other women to travel abroad.
In addition to its focus on a range of authors whose work spans the century, another strength of the volume is its attention to a diversity of genres: novels, poetry, letters, autobiographies, essays, journalism, guidebooks, and travel writing. The contributors also employ a variety of methodologies, including literary history, biography, cultural studies, archival recovery work, and geography. My favorite aspect of the collection is the readability of the essays. The individual authors, and the editors, deserve credit for creating arguments that are illustrative, persuasive, illuminating, and pleasurable to read. The contributors frequently refer to one another's work in their own essays, reflecting a collaborative approach that makes the collection cohesive as a whole.
Not surprisingly, several of the essays focus on Stowe, who was lionized more than any other American writer, male or female, in Great Britain during the nineteenth century. Using a methodology drawn from cultural and media studies, Sarah Ruffing Robbins shows how Stowe created the paradigm of a "mobile, feminized benevolence" that continues to shape popular culture, especially in images of women such as Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey helping children around the globe (75). Studying female celebrity from a different [End Page 412] angle, Brenda R. Weber analyzes Fern's satirical critique of nineteenth-century portrayals of Stowe as "worn-out, middle-aged, and lower-classed" (114), demonstrating how Fern was able to use fame as "a platform for commenting upon the politics of visibility" (113). Beth L. Lueck engages in scholarly sleuthing by examining historical accounts and material culture to unravel the mystery of Stowe in the Duchess of Sutherland's boudoir, finding that female sympathy helped to ease Stowe's anxiety about her appearance in British society and diminish "the gap between the democrat and the duchess" (99). In an analysis of Stowe's correspondence with George Eliot, Rita Bode shows that the two writers saw their distinct national identities not as a source of discord but as "a means of explanation and reconciliation for their differences and disagreements" (192) that helped them to create their strong epistolary friendship.