- Kolodny and Hawthorne, Thirty-five Years Later
As a PhD student studying early American literature and ecocriticism at the University of Arizona in the early 2000s, I had the good fortune to work as research assistant to Annette Kolodny for several years. During that time, Annette was deep into the research for and writing of In Search of First Contact(Duke UP, 2012), but she had sidelined that book project temporarily in order to develop a reprint edition of the largely lost 1893 Penobscot masterpiece by Joseph Nicolar The Life and Traditions of the Red Man(Duke UP, 2007). In preparing a new edition of the Nicolar volume, my contributions included transcribing the entire original 1893 book and then, together with Annette, repeatedly and meticulously proofreading it and eventually adding all the footnotes and other annotations that accompanied the text in the final Duke University Press publication. Along the way, I helped Annette pursue extensive research into Penobscot language, culture, and history, and assisted her voluminous correspondence with everyone from archaeologists and historians to many elders and members of the Penobscot Nation in Maine. Given the political and social commitments that underpinned that work, I was somewhat surprised when, in the spring of 2004, Annette briefly reassigned me from that project to another one: her editor at Penguin had asked her to update the introductory materials to her 1983 Penguin Classics edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance.
My surprise at this assignment arose not from her request that I survey allthe scholarship about The Blithedale Romancepublished in the twenty years since she created that 1983 edition; such in-depth research was par [End Page 891]for the course. Instead, I was surprised to find that she had created an edition of Hawthorne's novel at all. At that point, my own career-long fascination with Hawthorne was barely under way, and I admit that having only read The Scarlet Letterand a handful of the New England tales, my understanding of the scope of Hawthorne's writing was fairly narrow. Consequently, I found myself responding as many might: for a scholar whose nearly fifty-year career is celebrated for her foundational contributions to feminist studies and women's literature, ecocriticism, and Native American studies, Annette Kolodny's work on Hawthorne's Blithedalemight at first glance seem an anomaly. One might wonder, how does a scholarly edition of a novel by one of the most canonical nineteenth-century white male American authors fit into such a body of work? What I learned then is that, strange as it may appear, her Blithedaleedition complements perfectly her commitments to a socially progressive literary studies, then and now, and it underscores her career-long dedication to textual scholarship.
Some contextualizing proved helpful: in the years preceding her 1983 Hawthorne edition, Annette had published several essays that would become landmarks in the canon of feminist literary criticism and theory. Most notable are "A Map for Rereading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts" and "Dancing through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism," both published in 1980. It is no understatement to say that these two essays changed the course of literary studies, and they have since been reprinted widely and are now standards in textbooks and anthologies of literary theory. Annette opens "Dancing through the Minefield" by charting the then-recent rise of feminist literary criticism during the 1970s, and she identifies among its important developments the increased reprinting of "previously lost or otherwise ignored works" written by women—including authors whose importance might now, in 2018, be taken for granted, such as Rebecca Harding Davis, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, and Susan Glaspell (2). "So commercially successful were these reprintings," Annette writes, "and so attuned were the reprint houses to the political attitudes of the audiences for which they were offered, that many of us found ourselves wooed to compose critical introductions, which would find in the pages of nineteenth-century domestic and sentimental fictions, some signs...