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American Literary History 14.1 (2002) 60-82

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Gender, Nation, and the Tourist Gaze in the European "Year of Revolutions":
Kirkland's Holidays Abroad

Brigitte Bailey


The scene of the nationalist and republican revolutions of 1848, especially in France and Italy, provoked a double vision in American spectators. Supportive of these movements for national self-determination, especially since they seemed to follow an American model of iconoclastic republicanism, elite Americans also wanted to preserve Europe as a source of icons and instruction in consolidating national identities through images. 1 This double demand on Europe accorded with US antebellum nation construction, where elites were moving from the early Republic's universalizing public discourse toward more cultural, visual, and privatized forms of expression as a means of nation building. As Michael Warner claims, "although the nation-state was a product of the eighteenth century, the national imaginary was a product of the nineteenth" (120). Even as writers, artists, and politicians were creating this national imaginary through developing American cultural icons, a persistent Protestant iconoclasm made them wish to subjugate image to text and stimulated the appropriation of icons for national rather than religious uses. 2 Touring Europe in 1848 brought the diverging iconoclastic and iconophilic tendencies in American elites into high relief, especially so in women tourists, whose own already double status as icons and spectators highlighted this ambivalence and whose texts enacted the contradictions within antebellum modes of visualizing and gazing on behalf of the nation. 3

Studies of nineteenth-century American tourism suggest that it produced a normative middle- and upper-class perspective, in effect, a national gaze. 4 To an increasingly broad middle class, touring offered enculturation into this elite, managerial perspective. [End Page 60] Both nature and foreign culture became sites on which travelers could deploy what John Urry calls "the tourist gaze": a "socially organized" gaze "constructed through difference" (1). Tourist writing was necessarily repetitive, a series of reenactments of this gaze. Tourism was part of the project of forming a national subjectivity through culture, a project steered by a northeastern elite and, as historians such as Mary Kelley have pointed out, open to participation by women (392-93).

Caroline Kirkland's travel book, Holidays Abroad; Or, Europe from the West (1849), engages with and resists the normative tourist gaze and its gender and national implications, a dialectic shaped by the conflicted relationship of elite Americans to images. My reading involves three other arenas of the cultural production of the nation: the antebellum periodical press; American paintings and prints of Italy, the European site that was coded as both the most visual and the most feminine; and American responses to the revolution in France, the revolution that seemed the most text based and iconoclastic. Because Kirkland traveled in 1848, the politics of nation construction intersect in her narrative with the tourist's aesthetic project, even as revolutionary activity rendered the image of Europe itself unstable and less available for appropriation.

1. Magazine Work, Tourism, and Women's Gazes

In the late 1840s, Kirkland edited the Union Magazine of Literature and Art, which offered a process of acculturation similar to that of tourism. 5 Just as tourism exposed citizens to a series of ideologically charged images, positions, and locations, so did magazines offer readers visual and textual aids toward their self-fashioning as middle-class Americans. 6

In the inaugural issue of the Union, Kirkland associated the popular press's nation-building project with the masculine "defen[se of] our country" but defined its means of "exhibiting patriotism" in the feminized terms of antebellum descriptions of aesthetic production: 7 "To elevate the intellectual and moral character of the people, is a work no less necessary and commendable... [;] this is the aim of the author and the artist. Magazines... constitute in a country like ours, a powerful element of civilization... . [P]eriodical literature... [is] the best possible means of disseminating information, and diffusing the principles of a correct taste" (qtd. in Osborne 88-89). Here, the work of the editor...


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