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The Romance of Race

Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930

Jolie A. Sheffer

Publication Year: 2012

In the United States miscegenation is not merely a subject of literature and popular culture. It is in many ways the foundation of contemporary imaginary community. The Romance of Race examines the role of minority women writers and reformers in the creation of our modern American multiculturalism.

The national identity of the United States was transformed between 1880 and 1930 due to mass immigration, imperial expansion, the rise of Jim Crow, and the beginning of the suffrage movement. A generation of women writers and reformers—particularly women of color—contributed to these debates by imagining new national narratives that put minorities at the center of American identity. Jane Addams, Pauline Hopkins, Onoto Watanna (Winnifred Eaton), María Cristina Mena, and Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket) embraced the images of the United States—and increasingly the world—as an interracial nuclear family. They also reframed public debates through narratives depicting interracial encounters as longstanding, unacknowledged liaisons between white men and racialized women that produced an incestuous, mixed-race nation.

By mobilizing the sexual taboos of incest and miscegenation, these women writers created political allegories of kinship and community. Through their criticisms of the nation’s history of exploitation and colonization, they also imagined a more inclusive future. As Jolie A. Sheffer identifies the contemporary template for American multiculturalism in the works of turn-of-the century minority writers, she uncovers a much more radical history than has previously been considered.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: The American Literatures Initiative

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

The seeds of this project were planted many years ago, when I took an undergraduate course on nineteenth-century women writers with Julia Stern at Northwestern University...

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pp. xi-xiv

This project has been nourished by many sources. I am indebted to friends and colleagues who have generously given their time and talents to make this book better. I am humbled by and grateful for their contributions...

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pp. 1-26

In a variety of popular fictions published in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century by authors who share no obvious ethnic/ racial, literary, or personal ties, certain conventions appear again and again: mixed-race protagonists...

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Chapter 1. Mulattos, Mysticism, and Marriage: African American Identity and Psychic Integration

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pp. 27-54

In this chapter, I analyze a figure whose revision of the conventions of race and romance marks a crucial moment in the transformation of American models of national identity...

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Chapter 2. Half-Caste Family Romances: Divergent Paths of Asian American Identity

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pp. 55-90

In “A Contract” (1902), one of Winnifred Eaton’s popular Orientalist romances published under the pen name Onoto Watanna, O-Kiku-san, a young Japanese woman, explains...

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Chapter 3. The Mexican Mestizo/a in the Mexican American Imaginary

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pp. 91-118

In the previous two chapters, I showed how the racial romance traveled from African American literature featuring the “mulatto/a” to Winnifred Eaton’s “half-castes,” doing important...

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Chapter 4. Half-Breeds and Homesteaders: Native/American Alliances in the West

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pp. 119-148

I have now illustrated several variations of the racial romance as used by women authors to urge their U.S. readers to recognize nonwhite minorities as members of the national family...

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Chapter 5. Blood and Blankets: Americanizing European Immigrants through Cultural Miscegenation and Textile Reproduction

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pp. 149-170

In the previous chapters I have explored the common ground between incest and miscegenation in North American fictions by minority writers who sought to expose the racial and gender inequalities between white men and racialized...

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pp. 171-178

The Romance of Race has illustrated the extent to which miscegenation and incest were dangerous and powerful tropes deployed in literature and popular culture as a means to reimagine racial and ethnic minorities as members of the national...


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pp. 179-208


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pp. 209-224


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pp. 225-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780813554648
E-ISBN-10: 0813554640
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813554624
Print-ISBN-10: 0813554632

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 6 illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The American Literatures Initiative

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Minority authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Ethnic groups in literature.
  • Multiculturalism in literature.
  • Identity (Psychology) in literature.
  • Minorities -- United States -- Intellectual life.
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