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Reviewed by:
  • U.S. Women Writers and the Discourses of Colonialism, 1825-1861
  • Carla Mulford (bio)
U.S. Women Writers and the Discourses of Colonialism, 1825-1861. By Etsuko Taketani. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003. Pp. x, 236. Illustrations. Cloth, $30.00.)

In a project directed toward students of American literary history, Etsuko Taketani has engaged the interstices among several different areas of inquiry in her study of women writers—predominantly of New England—and their writings both on and of colonialism during the early republic. As literary history, Taketani's study follows in a line of scholarship on women writers fostered primarily by Nina Baym (in Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820–1870 [1978, 1993]; Feminism and American Literary History [1992]; and American Women Writers and the Work of History, 1790–1860 [1995]) but also by Mary Suzanne Schriber (in Writing Home: American Women Abroad, 1830–1920 [1997]) and Malini Johar Schueller (U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790–1890 [1998]). As historical theoretical inquiry and postcolonial critique, the study works out a space to explore ambivalences and uncertainties regarding imperialist gestures left somewhat unexamined by scholars such as John Carlos Rowe (in Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism: From the Revolution to World War II [2000] and Post-Nationalist American Studies [2000]), Donald E. Pease (in National Identities and Post-Americanist Narratives [1994]), and Amy Kaplan in her award-winning essay, "Manifest Domesticity," published in the journal American Literature in 1998.

Taketani is attempting to articulate an extension (and evaluative critique) of Kaplan's work and work like Kaplan's, which, Taketani claims, "subsume[s] women's works in the hegemonic and patriarchal history of Manifest Destiny and expansionism" (86). Taketani's goal is to position the writers "in an 'alternative' history of U.S. imperialism," that is, "a history that attends to what happened on foreign soil as a consequence" (87) of U.S. imperialist attitudes both on and off U.S. shorelines. But Taketani wishes to remain attentive to a position about U.S. imperialism that enables her to treat it (employing the term "colonialism") as an intracontinental (in North America) and extracontinental (in Liberia, China, India, and Burma) interrogation of relations between those who considered themselves superior (North Americans of European descent) and those held in subjugated positions as a result of U.S. cultural and trade imperialism. Her primary question for the examination seems to be this: "To what extent were women writers crucial to the formation and [End Page 516] subversion of colonialism, particularly in the United States, which was without formal colonies?" (3). A related question is "How are we to understand women's complicity with colonialism, and their resistance to it, as seen in their texts?" (3). Taketani's answers—with regard to the limited number of eastern, New England-oriented women whom she can cover—are related in a complex rendering of how these writers, almost with a kind of fascination, both supported colonialism and critiqued its faulty, racialized, sexualized, and oppressive practices. Phrased differently, the writers Taketani explores at once take advantage of U.S. obsessions with children, slavery, oppression, sexuality, and drugs (alcohol and opium) by explicitly and allegorically writing about them and then, sometimes, critique the cultural, political, and marketing system that allows for exploitation of children, women, and persons whose descent lines lie outside U.S. borders.

U.S. Women Writers and the Discourses of Colonialism is broken into two sections, correlated around Taketani's theme of women's establishment and critique of hierarchies "crucial to the formation of colonialism in women's literary culture." In Part 1, Taketani analyzes what she calls a "symbiotic" relationship emergent when women write for children or engage in teaching young people. Because children's education was "one of the few public institutions of power accessible to women of the day" (7), Taketani argues, women could use education both to inculcate their "belief in racial distinctions and white supremacy" (7) and to represent and, in effect, regulate heterosocial and heteronormal expectation. In Taketani's discussion, children are colonized and controlled, as the groups designed to assist them (including...


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