- Pauline E. Hopkins: A Literary Biography
Since the rediscovery of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859–1930), marked in part by Ann Allen Shockley's 1972 biographical essay and the Schomburg reprinting of her novels, there has been a virtual explosion in Hopkins scholarship, including a growing number of journal articles, significant attention in a number of book-length studies, and a 1996 collection of essays. Yet with all this attention, there has been no single-author extended study of Hopkins's life and work—until now. Hanna Wallinger's book fills this gap, providing a long awaited and much needed resource for Hopkins scholars.
The book's structure follows a chronological path through Hopkins's life and work. The first section offers details of Hopkins's early life, including her history as a playwright and performer with Hopkins's Colored Troubadours, a role which earned for her (or allowed her to claim) the title "Boston's Favorite Colored Soprano." Wallinger also discusses Hopkins's drama, Peculiar Sam, which has previously received little critical attention. The second section outlines Hopkins's participation in the periodical press of her day, primarily as editor of and frequent contributor to the Colored American Magazine, but also as contributor to the Voice of the Negro. Wallinger draws on recently discovered letters between Hopkins, William Monroe Trotter, John C. Freund, and William Dupree to illuminate the managerial changes at the Colored American and their effects on Hopkins. A third section describes the literary contexts in which Hopkins participated. Wallinger summarizes plots and recent critical treatments of Hopkins's novels and short stories, drawing thematic links between Hopkins's earlier and later works as well as between her nonfiction and fiction. The final section pieces together the details of Hopkins's shadowy later years, using her short-lived publication, The New Era, to speculate on her political and artistic goals during this period. Again placing Hopkins in her literary context, Wallinger ponders the effect of the Harlem Renaissance on Hopkins and her contemporaries, writers who "could not survive in the 1920s with its more radical and racialized literature" (281).
Wallinger uses Hopkins's contemporaries to link her work to the broader contexts of her day. As she explains, Hopkins's "unconventional and manipulative voice was part of a tradition, her views and writings typical of her time and circumstances." Wallinger seeks to "put Hopkins back into a context where she belonged in the first place," a goal she accomplishes by delineating numerous literary and political contexts for Hopkins's work (5). She views Hopkins "against the background of the literary discourse of her own generation," discourses such as minstrel plays, dialect writings, detective fiction, and religious fiction, to name a few (135). She also situates Hopkins among an extensive roll call of race activists and writers: William Wells Brown, Charles Chesnutt, W. E. B. DuBois, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, Victoria Earle Matthews, and many more. Indeed, the student of race activism in the United States from 1880 to 1920 will learn [End Page 98] much from Wallinger's study, a significant proportion of which treats Hopkins's contemporaries and contexts.
As an inevitable consequence of such an ambitious and far-ranging study, Wallinger's argument is perhaps overly general, as in this statement from her introduction: "Hopkins's life, her literature, and her relations with black and white men and women are portrayed as negotiations, a term that implies issues of agreement and bargaining . . . . Hopkins had to negotiate her way, sometimes meekly, sometimes cunningly, but most often in a very outspoken and loud voice, across two centuries, and across boundaries and impediments that threatened to silence her" (4). However, the book's broad focus does not detract from its significant contribution. As a literary study, this book's value lies primarily in the consolidation and sustained examination of the Hopkins oeuvre. As a biography, Wallinger's study is extremely valuable, accounting for Hopkins's little-known early and later years and relating her interactions with members of her community during her most...