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Race and Time

American Women's Poetics from Antislavery to Racial Modernity

Janet Gray

Publication Year: 2004

Race and Time urges our attention to women’s poetry in considering the cultural history of race. Building on close readings of well known and less familiar poets—including Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, Sarah Louisa Forten, Hannah Flagg Gould, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Sarah Piatt, Mary Eliza Tucker Lambert, Sarah Josepha Hale, Eliza Follen, and Mary Mapes Dodge—Gray traces tensions in women’s literary culture from the era of abolitionism to the rise of the Plantation tradition. She devotes a chapter to children’s verse, arguing that racial stereotypes work as “nonsense” that masks conflicts in the construction of white childhood. A compilation of the poems cited, most of which are difficult to find elsewhere, is included as an appendix.

Gray clarifies the cultural roles women’s poetry played in the nineteenth-century United States and also reveals that these poems offer a fascinating, dynamic, and diverse field for students of social and cultural history. Gray’s readings provide a rich sense of the contexts in which this poetry is embedded and examine its aesthetic and political vitality in meticulous detail, linking careful explication of the texts with analysis of the history of poetry, canons, literacy, and literary authority.

Race and Time distinguishes itself from other critical studies not only through its searching, in-depth readings but also through its sustained attention to less known poets and its departure from a Dickinson-centered model. Most significantly, it offers a focus on race, demonstrating how changes in both the U.S. racial structure and women’s place in public culture set the terms for change in how women poets envisioned the relationship between poetry and social power.

Gray’s work makes contributions to several fields of study: poetry, U.S. literary history and American studies, women’s studies, African American studies and whiteness studies, children’s literature, and cultural studies. While placing the works of figures who have been treated elsewhere (e.g., Dickinson and Harper) into revealing new relationships, Race and Time does much to open interdisciplinary discussion of unfamiliar works.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I’ve dreamed of a three-hundred-page acknowledgments section accompanying a ten-page book, but that would be another story. A. Walton Litz showed me the door out of high male Modernism and into the hushed sepulchers of dead white women poets. Elaine Showalter pointed me toward several passages, one of which led directly to my previous ...


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1. Wrappings: A Methodological Introduction

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pp. 3-32

Why read poems by nineteenth-century American women through the constructs “race” and “time”? I saw race and time at work on each other in a group of poems I chose for She Wields a Pen (1997), one of several collections through which feminist scholars made freshly available the works of long-forgotten women poets as the turn of the twenty-first century approached.1 In the earliest of the poems in my anthology that touch on race, a child interrogates a naturally mummified

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2. Contesting the Pearl: Whiteness, Blackness, and the Possession of American Poetry2

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pp. 33-60

...Key to reading this poem as a point of nexus between socially engaged and aesthetic poetics, and as an opening gambit in postslavery literary whiteness, is the difference in the ways the speaker and the dark other approach and value the pearl. For the speaker, the pearl has the quality of a sacred fetish; she approaches it with ritualized caution in an effort to raise her own worth. Yet she identifies the lost pearl ...


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3. “Skins May Differ”: Women’s Republicanism and the Poetics of Abolitionism

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pp. 63-85

...1830s and the female public culture that thrived in print from about 1820to 1870 had in common that they both drew much of their critical passion from Christian millennialism, a force that helped to form the eighteenth-century revolutionary spirit but that the nation’s founders had resisted in framing political issues through rationalism and the concept of natural...

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4. The Mummy Returns: Humor, Kinship, and the Bindings of Print

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pp. 95-100

Hannah Flagg Gould did not initiate the publication of her first book, Po-ems (1832).1 Her friends collected verse that had appeared mostly in local periodicals, including four antislavery poems, and presented her with the finished volume. The book was successful enough to merit reprints in 1833and 1835, and the 1836 edition incorporated a second volume along with...


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5. Looking in the Glass: Sarah Piatt’s Poetics of Play and Loss

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pp. 103-126

In antebellum print culture, abolitionist women’s poetics sought to transform the audience into agents for historical change. Ideological tensions complicated this mission, specifically republican womanhood’s legacy of support for white male dominance, the limitations of sentiment as an antiracist strategy, and the unrepresentability of black-raced citizenship and kinship patterns. Related to these tensions were the rifts between radical abolitionism and the dominant ...

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6. We Women Radicals: Frances Harper’s Poetics of Racial Formation

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pp. 127-145

...(1872) invites strategies of contextualization that are not available for Sarah Piatt’s “A Child’s Party” or Mary Eliza Tucker Lambert’s Loew’s Bridge. Atsixty quatrains, “The Deliverance” is the longest of the six poems in “Aunt Chloe,” a first-person narrative cycle whose overall patterns are missed if the cycle is not read as a whole. Further, Harper is today the best known of...

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7. What One Is Not Was: Mary Eliza Tucker Lambert’s Poetics of Self-Reconstruction

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pp. 146-167

Mary Eliza Tucker Lambert’s Loew’s Bridge: A Broadway Idyl (1867) is a long poem of observations, associations, and musings about the view from a pedestrian overpass that spanned the traffic-clogged intersection of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York City for just over one year of the 1860s. Completed April 15, 1867, the bridge was intended to relieve traffic so heavy that it endangered life and limb, but on July 21, 1868, the Proceedings of the Board of Aldermen ...

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8. Critical Positions in Racial Modernity: An Approach to Teaching

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pp. 167-181

Recuperative scholarship presents forgotten texts in an accessible venue and introduces them into current critical discourse, opening the way for teaching and learning communities to engage freshly with moments of genre development and angles and objects of critique. Sarah Piatt’s “A Child’s Party (in Kentucky, A.D. 185_),” Frances Harper’s “The Deliverance,” and Mary Lambert’s Loew’s Bridge complicate our picture of the development of women’s poetics, modeling variant adjustments in poetry’s relationship to the changing structure of social power. Recuperative projects, however, are always both diachronic ...

IV • OTHER TIMES Childhood and Nonsense

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9. The Containment of Childhood: Reproducing Consumption in AmericanChildren’s Verse

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pp. 185-234

Hannah Flagg Gould’s “The Child’s Address to the Kentucky Mummy” and Sarah Piatt’s “A Child’s Party (in Kentucky, 185_)” are both children’s poems in the broad sense that they are about and at least partially for children. They have in common a richly articulated structure of elements that supports extension of the poetics of race and time into the study of childhood. Both of these poems set the stage for understanding the nineteenth-century formation of the category of childhood...

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APPENDIX: Poems Cited

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pp. 235-292

The Genius of Universal Emancipation, 3d Series, 1 (May 1830): 41.Those costly jewels, too, from “Browne and Spaulding’s” bought—Which grew where now the “Leader,” “Tribune,” “World,”...


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pp. 295-310

Works Cited

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pp. 311-319


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pp. 320-324

E-ISBN-13: 9781587294808
E-ISBN-10: 158729480X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877458777
Print-ISBN-10: 0877458774

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2004

Edition: cloth

OCLC Number: 66394083
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Race and Time

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American poetry -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Slavery in literature.
  • Race relations in literature.
  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
  • Literature and history -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • American poetry -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Antislavery movements in literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
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