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PART II Hispanicism and the Case of Cuba 4 Mary Peabody Mann’s Juanita Cuba and US National Identity Mary Peabody Mann’s Juanita: A Romance of Real Life in Cuba Fifty Years Ago (1887) is a sentimental, of­tentimes gothic excoriation of 1830s Cuban slav­ ery. After arriving in Cuba from her native New England, the novel’s protagonist Helen Wentworth confronts Cuba’s horrors. These terrors include the corruption her childhood friend ­ Isabella Rodríguez experiences after marriage to a Cuban planter and slav­ ery’s tragic effects on the amours of ­ Isabella’s son Ludovico and the family’s “Moorish” servant Juanita. With its author undergoing reassessment after long being treated as a footnote in the lives of her more famous friends and relatives (she was married to Horace Mann, sister-­in-­law to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and translator for and collaborator with Domingo Faustino Sarmiento) (Elbert, Hall, and Rodier 2006; Marshall 2005), Juanita has garnered criti­ cal attention as an intriguing domestic abolitionist novel. Much of this work, though, has neglected to examine one of the novel’s more curious aspects: its unusual composition and publication history. There are only rare exceptions to this omission (e.g., Hanrahan 2013; Jakšić 2007, esp. 113; Windell 2014, 321–22). Mann conceived Juanita during her 1833–35 visit to Cuba, where she and her sister ­­ Sophia went to recuperate the invalid ­ Sophia’s health. During the stay, Mann took notes on Cuban slav­ ery that she intended to use in an abolitionist novel. She began writing after she returned to the United States and largely finished Juanita before the Civil War. Yet according to both an 1887 letter from Mann’s sister Elizabeth Palmer Peabody to Mann’s publisher’s wife, Harriet Mulford Stone Lothrop, as well as Elizabeth’s explanatory afterword to the novel, Mann delayed publication because she feared that the novel’s unflattering portrayal of Cuba would offend her former hosts. After the hosts’ deaths, she planned for publication. Juanita was in press when she died in 1887, and Elizabeth saw it to publication later that year.1 Its appearance after both US and Cuban emancipation seemingly makes it an abolitionist novel without a purpose. It thus contains awkward anachronisms and narratorial 120 / Chapter 4 tensions. Its sentimental and gothic literary conventions and abolitionism reflect antebellum sensibilities and concerns, whereas its title and some of its narratorial commentary look back on these issues from the late nineteenth century.2 How are we to contextualize and make sense of the purpose of such a novel? Elizabeth’s afterword provides some ultimately unsatisfying answers. Explaining her sister’s choice to publish the novel, she writes, “The death of the last member of the family of her host, a few years since, left her free to publish what she had seen and known of real life in Cuba, woven into a work of art of her own imagining. She thought it would be felt to be a timely publication , coming out so hard upon the time of the emancipation of the slaves of Cuba” (Peabody 2000, 222). (Cuba’s gradual emancipation process, which began in 1880 with the slaves’ indenture, ended with their free­ dom in the latter part of the decade.) The death of the family member who would have been offended by the novel’s unflattering portrayal of Cuba explains why Mann might have no longer felt compelled to keep the novel under wraps, but it does not provide a positive explanation for why she might have felt it valuable to publish. Such an explanation is necessary because a solely negative one is insufficient to explain the anachronism of a postbellum abolitionist novel. More intriguing is the idea that the novel commemorated­ Cuban abolition. Yet how would an abolitionist novel do so, considering that it excoriates the evils of slaveholding society? A proper commemoration would turn from the past to celebrate a brighter future. Placing the novel in the context of US-­ Cuban relations as they evolved during the nineteenth century proves more satisfactory. Although its abolitionism seems out of place in the late nineteenth century, its representation of Cuba registers issues spanning its antebellum composition and postbellum revision and publication. Mann likely thought the novel could speak to these issues both when she began writing and when she returned to it. During the antebellum period the United States frequently sought to annex Cuba. Such projects were generally spearheaded by South­ erners eager to increase the number...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817391744
Related ISBN
9780817319779
MARC Record
OCLC
1029730975
Pages
222
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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